When I started a Code Club in August of 2013, I was a little nervous about my technical skills. Even though I have done a lot of informal programming as a physics student, management consultant, and a hobbyist, I had never built commercial software. I had never created a game or an iphone app. I had not really built a legitimate website. In no way could I be classified as a professional computer programmer. Could I really help a room full of kids learn the basics of computer programming?

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As with everything, a little bit of experience proved that my preconceived notions were wrong. I quickly found out that running a code club had very little to do with my functional knowledge of javascript functions or python syntax. And that’s a good thing, because there are not enough programmers with enough volunteer hours to help kids get started with coding.

So if it’s not about technical prowess, what is the key attribute to a successful Code Club facilitator?

I stumbled on the answer over nearly two years of facilitating Code Club myself, working directly with another 5-6, training lots more, and recently comparing notes with people all over the country that have launched coding programs. It was a little surprising, and I had no good way to describe it.

Until today, that is.

I was talking to Terry Lawler, who runs Children’s, Teens and the awesome makerspace at Burton Barr library in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Terry is an amazing librarian, with plenty of the usual attributes – a love for learning, a strong technical competency, and an enthusiasm for libraries. But there is another attribute that sets her apart in her efforts to take technology programs to the next level: “game.” During our conversation today, Terry referred to several of the volunteers helping with coding as “being game.” And I realized that this is not just a nice-to-have, but an essential outlook for successful Code Club facilitators.

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Game. As an adjective, describing a person that is willing to try, willing to take a risk, ready to jump out of the comfort zone and tackle a new challenge, even if there is no logical reason to think they can succeed.

Someone who is game will not worry about their limitations, the obstacles or the constraints. Being “game” is critical for all aspects of life, but particularly useful when approaching something new and potentially daunting, like technology. I can think of several reasons why being “game” is the most important thing for a Code Club facilitator:

  • Overcome fear and get started. It can be scary to walk into a room of 8-yr-olds, and even scarier to try to get them programming computers. To be “game” means you can muster the courage to start, and that is the most important thing.
  • Model the growth mindset. As opposed to a fixed mindset (“He is good at computers, but I am not”), the growth mindset is the secret ingredient for learning programming. And anything, really. I will devote a whole post to this concept, but for now you might want to read what Sal Khan has to say about it.
  • Engage with children and teens. There is a saying I first heard at church – “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Kids want a supporter, an ally, someone they can show their latest discovery to, someone who will cheer for them and encourage them. Sounds fluffy, I know. But it’s true, and if you have worked a lot with kids (or any humans), you will agree with me on this.
  • Embrace failure. Computer programming is never done correctly the first time. There are hundreds and thousands of false starts and miscues along the way. In fact, making mistakes is the only way to learn some of the most important things. Someone who is “game” realizes this and is not concerned about doing something wrong.

The good news about “being game” is that anyone can do it. You can “be game” by taking incremental risks, steps out of your comfort zone where you try something new and discover that it’s not that scary or bad after all.

If you’re “game” on the topic of coding, you can try your hand at the hour of code (fun and easy, takes about an hour) or start a Code Club of your own.