Most people think I’m crazy. (They’re right.)
But that doesn’t stop me from sharing my vision: millions of kids learning computer programming for free at the public libraries.
When they find out that we are already reaching thousands of kids all over the State of Arizona, they wonder how we got started. I wish I could say we had it figured out from the beginning. The truth is, we stumbled into a model that is perfect for computer programming and perfect for libraries. It took months of trial and error, with numerous detours and pit stops, but we found an approach that works for everyone.
As I write this post, we have more than 30 Arizona libraries using a model that is:
- Fun and engaging for kids. They are not looking for an additional hour of school, so the lecture-free environment and hands-on approach is perfect.
- Valuable for parents. With an abundance of screens and technology permeating their everyday lives, parents are thrilled to see their sons and daughters using their brains and learning skills that could lead to successful careers.
- Totally doable for librarians. There are not a lot of double majors with library science and computer science (although that’s changing fast!) Many librarians, staff, and volunteers feel overwhelmed at the thought of running a coding program. But they can relax when they see the informal structure of a code club.
My friend Shawn started a code club at his library. Even without prior expertise in coding and software, he has reached about 100 kids in his first year! Here’s what Shawn had to say:
“I didn’t know much about coding, but I found that there was nothing to be nervous about. Prenda provided everything I needed to get up and running.”
How did it happen?
Like all worthwhile things, it started with a personal passion and grew from tiny to small to medium, and we are just starting to see the enormous potential. Here are the phases of our journey, with dates and an estimated number of young programmers reached.
Founding (August 2013)
Reach: 15 kids
I walked into the library and asked if I could start a computer programming club for kids. The team at the Mesa Public Library (the same place I spent hours as a kid) were more than supportive, offering to reserve the 15-chair computer training room for two hours each week. We quickly filled up.
Demand Overload (Fall/Winter 2013)
Reach: 100 kids
For the next six months, kids kept coming to Code Club. In no time, we exceeded capacity with the repeat visitors and the friends they invited. Long waiting lists, too few computers, and even fire code issues were among the challenges we were faced at that point.
Fundraising and Growth (Spring 2014)
Reach: 250 kids
In the spring of 2014, we ran a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, and with the money (play this game to find out exactly how much) we were able to buy a cart of Chromebooks. We expanded to 50 kids each week.
Sharing Best Practices (Summer 2014)
Reach: 1,000 kids and teens
The press coverage from the fundraising, along with good old-fashioned word of mouth led to inquiries from libraries around the Phoenix area. Pretty soon, we had trained facilitators and shared resources that led to the creation of ten Code Clubs across the state.
Automation. (Fall/Winter 2015 and beyond)
Reach: 5,000 kids, teens and adults
We quickly learned that most library staff lack the skills, interests, and time availability to create a coding program. But they believe in the cause, and they are “game” to try. They just need a little help. So we built the Code Club web application, an internet platform that guides youngsters through the process of learning to code in the same engaging model that evolved over the course of our journey. We have trained and supported dozens of librarians that are using our software to run Code Clubs in their libraries, and the results are truly amazing! Best of all, anyone can do it.
Have you thought about starting a code club in your local library? You might feel like you don’t have enough technical skills on your staff, or simply lack the time and resources to make it happen.
Prenda’s model of code clubs are available to libraries across the country. It’s designed in a way that requires no technical expertise, and very little staff hours which allows you to relax. Enjoy the buzz in your community, the happy parents, the excited press, and pleased policy makers. Contact us to learn about how the Prenda story could become your story.