116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — From 2015 to 2020, CoderDojo was a popular program for students and parents.
On Saturdays, as many as a hundred students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade would assemble to explore game design, robotics, animation and coding, among other activities.
Then the pandemic hit, forcing CoderDojo to switch to a virtual format that has continued ever since.
With 2022, however, NewBoCo wants to share the best of both worlds. In-person CoderDojos will return for the first time in almost two years — but a second, virtual version of CoderDojo will continue taking place on the same day.
“We definitely see a value to having it in person again because it allows us to do more hands-on, materials-based activities,” said Samantha Dahlby, director of K-12 Education for NewBoCo.
“At the same time, though, we didn’t want to just pull the rug out from underneath kids who have connected with us virtually. Virtual CoderDojos still allow us to reach learners from around the world.”
The in-person and virtual versions of CoderDojo will both take place on the first and third Saturday of each month, beginning in February. The in-person sessions will be held 1 to 3 p.m., with the virtual sessions beginning immediately after at 3.
With a goal of fostering creativity and engaging students on STEM topics, CoderDojo participants get to try a wide variety of hands-on activities.
They aren’t placed in a classroom and given instructions by a teacher. Instead, each activity is self-guided, allowing kids to learn at their own pace and explore only what interests them.
In-person activities include beginner coding stations. “Introduction to circuits,” in which students can build things that light up; building blocks for creating structures; and “Imagination Station,” which are more artistically driven activities with opportunities to color and create.
Mentors are at each activity to help students when they need it.
Meanwhile, CoderDojo’s virtual sessions will be one hour and will use Remo, a virtual platform that allows students to move between stations.
Dahlby said the loose approach at CoderDojo often leads to surprises for parents, as they discover that their children have interests they never knew about.
“I’ve definitely gotten comments from parents that they’re happy that their kids have found something to get excited about,” she said.
“Later they’ll ask for gift ideas, or camps, that can allow their kids to pursue something even further.”
School counselors have recommended children attend CoderDojo, Dahlby said.
“Counselors will see an interest in a student, and they know that we can offer a place for that students to explore that interest,” she said.
“It’s not a structured environment where we expect things from them. It’s a different, more organic kind of learning, where the students are in charge of what they want to do.
“We just guide them along.”
Andy Fiedler, NewBoCo’s K-12 education administrator, said he sees similar excitement from the students who have been taking part in virtual CoderDojos for the past year and a half.
“They’re really funny,” Fiedler said. “A lot of the kids, they let their personalities come out a lot more than adults would over a video call.
“What’s really cool with being virtual over the past year, is that you do see kids open up a lot more, the more you work with them. We see that especially with the kids who keep coming back every time.”
Fiedler and Dahlby noted that the “social” aspect of CoderDojo is as important for children as the activities. Fiedler said virtual participants are excited to share their creations with one another or compare notes.
Meanwhile, students at the in-person CoderDojo often congregate at one activity, then move together as a group to another one.
““It’s great to see students collaborating,” Dahlby said.
“Sometimes they bring friends or relatives, but other times they make new friends right there at the activity.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a few aspects of the in-person CoderDojos. Dahlby noted organizers waited to bring back the program until vaccinations were available to the age range of participants.
“We don’t require it (vaccinations), but we strongly encourage it,” Dahlby said.
Also, while CoderDojos used to permit walk-ins, advance registration now is required. Students can sign up for both in-person and virtual CoderDojo at newbo.co/education/k-12/coderdojo.
Participation in either program is free, but registration allows organizers to prepare enough materials for all the students attending.