Coding – The next generation
At GCHQ, coding is a valuable skill that many of our workforce have and use to keep the country safe. GCHQ runs three code clubs in schools, with members of staff as the volunteers; I've volunteered at one of them for two years now and have been the club leader for half a year. We teach a group of around eighteen Year Six students, with a teacher supervising.
Code Club is an International network of volunteers who run clubs in public places like schools or libraries to teach programming to interested kids aged 9-13. We've taught the kids at our Code Club a huge range of things this year - here's a quick-fire list:
- Scratch: A visual, block based programming language - already in the curriculum.
- Code Monkey / Code Combat: Browser based games where you direct a character through a maze by writing code.
- Makeblock MBots: Adorable robots which can be programmed using Scratch. Other Robots are available.
- Python: A very accessible scripting language.
- HTML and CSS: The building blocks of websites, my favourite things.
- Ciphers: Pigpen, Caesar, Vigenere - of interest to us because of our history, and so I can stretch the definition of 'Code'.
- Web Developer Tools: by request of some of the kids, who just love mucking around with web pages.
For Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python we used Projects found on the Code Club Website all of which are of very high quality.
What I’ve learnt
Planning a curriculum that moves as fast as the minds of Year Six kids has been quite a challenge; I've even resorted to asking other GCHQ developers for ideas. Also, as I found out the hard way, they don't always read instructions - and explaining the same thing over and over is a lesson in patience. I have a much greater deal of respect for teachers now, that's for sure.
Code Club has also been an excellent example of the value of teamwork. The rest of the volunteers work just as hard supporting the students, and help contribute ideas to lesson plans, sometimes to bring my woollier plans into focus. I feel safe in saying we make a good team too.
It’s super satisfying to see kids learning and loving coding – and then being proud to show you what they've achieved. As part of Code Club, we've been able to support a group of children, with a hearteningly even gender split, in developing their passion for programming - there’s no way you can't feel good about that.
To conclude, Code Club is brilliant. I'm really grateful that GCHQ encourages its employees to give back to the community, it's a highlight of my week and I feel that this volunteering has helped me grow as a person too. Beyond the world of intelligence, coding is now the building block of a wide variety of careers. Who knows what the kids we've trained will go on to do, but by teaching them code I know we've helped them develop an essential skill for today's world. I'll definitely be looking to leading Code Club again next year.
If you're interested in starting your own Code Club, or finding an existing club near you, head to www.codeclub.org.uk.