Campus and Community

How to create a sea battle game? They’re here teach you

CoderDojo @ Técnico’s mission is to show young people what IT is all about - last year registrations had to be closed, showing that the initiative was a big success.

CoderDojo. For those interested in the IT area, the name is not new: it is a global and free programming community, aimed at the younger crowds, with communities spread throughout the world. At Técnico, its history is recent.

“We took the CoderDojo name, which is already known, to create a new initiative here at Técnico”, explains Margarida Correia, responsible for the group’s communication. “We thought it would be interesting to do something more regular than just summer schools, such as Summer at ULisboa, to stimulate people and show what IT is all about.”

Thus arose the idea, in the summer of 2014, to create CoderDojo @ Técnico, teaching the basics of various programming languages and offering a cursory view of what IT is about. The first session took place in January, gathering, on the first Saturday of every month, about 60 young people interested in this area. There were even more students interested, but there was no capacity for them: “We had to impose a registration limit”.

In July, part of the group was responsible for the IT activities for the Summer at ULisboa initiative. “We didn’t follow the same logic as in CoderDojo throughout the year”, says a student who is now beginning her Master’s in computer science and engineering. For this three hour crash course, after an initial stage of basic Python learning, the final goal was to create a sea battle game with that language and display some of the work developed in the computer science and engineering program; throughout the year, priority is given to learning languages and doing various exercises. Especially because there are many students who keep coming back. “We didn’t expect people to come for every single session, we thought they might come once or twice. That forced us to constantly change the exercises and teach several languages. “

In fact, participating in Summer at ULisboa worked as a test for various situations – some of the participants had already been to CoderDojo – and made it possible to find out the best method for teaching younger kids, helping to adapt the activities for the next year.

Throughout the year, besides Scratch (“which many of them are familiar with, thanks to the information and communication technologies classes in the 9th grade”), young people can be introduced to Python, JavaScript, Java or C, for example. After that, it is time to program a robot: “It’s the part that they prefer, the most interactive, and that’s normal”, recalls Margarida, who decided to get involved in this project because it combines “two things” that she likes: interacting with kids and IT. “This was a way to combine the two things”, she explains.

For all those interested in helping elementary and high school students to know real computer science and engineering, she says, “this is a good opportunity”. “It’s not exactly something to complement what we teach in class, but it’s a good context to try to understand the difficulties we feel in explaining things that are so simple for us. We keep improving with every session, and that is also our goal here.”

Although the activity is “ideal” for computer science and engineering students from the 2nd year onwards – because, as Margarida explains, newcomers may not know the several languages well enough yet – the group is open to anyone interested. “What really matters is the person’s own initiative – if you want to help, you are welcome.” The next session will be held in October, on a date to be announced, and further information can be found on the CoderDojo @ Técnico website, where you can not only browse the help forum, but also book tickets for the next sessions.