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Last Friday morning, at 0530, I awoke my son. We had a flight to Dublin to catch.
Lucas had been selected, along with his team mate Michael, to travel to CoderDojo’s Coolest Projects Showcase in order to present and demonstrate their Technology Project – an arcade style spaceship game with an innovative control and scoring system.
Great, I hear you say. Tech guys demo products all the time. Why are these guys worth writing about – other than one of them happens to be your son?
Lucas is 15. Michael is 11.
CoderDojo is a global network of free computer programming clubs for young people aged 8-17. Lucas and Michael have been attending a Dojo based in Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art for just over 9 months and, in that time, have developed their Technology skills far beyond anything I could ever have imagined when I started taking him along in the usual “here’s a club that you might like” way that dads do….
So, after a day spent sightseeing around Dublin and some well-deserved rest on Friday evening, we headed along to Dublin’s RDS (a huge exhibition building) early on Saturday morning along with dozens of parents, helpers and mentors accompanying hundreds of Ninjas (the young coders themselves) from 17 countries throughout the world. An amazingly eclectic group of Technologists from countries as far afield as Portugal, Romania and even Australia!!
The RDS was filled to capacity – every square meter of the building was occupied by Coders and Technologists demonstrating their “Cool Projects” – every aspect of Technology was on show – Web, Mobile, Software, Networking, Internet of Things, Data – you name it, a Ninja had built it.
The format was simple. The Ninjas demonstrated their Projects to each other, to parents, to the CoderDojo mentors and volunteers who accompanied the groups of Ninjas and, most importantly, to the event judges (in their distinctive blue T-Shirts they travelled around the venue with clipboards and smiles, spending time talking and communicating with the demonstrating Ninjas in a really relaxed, informal style).
I took some time to walk around and visit some of the stands myself, watching in amazement as Ninjas talked me through their projects. There was a breath-taking variety of games, apps, robots, vehicles, devices and software programmes on show. All of them gleefully explained in great detail by Technologists who, in the main, were no taller than my belt buckle!
All through the day stage areas had been occupied by a variety of speakers and presenters – all talking about some aspect of technology relating to the Projects being shown by the Ninjas. We heard speakers talk about Digital Literacy and safety in the online world, programming skills in Minecraft (hugely popular with the Ninjas!), YouTube, Robotics, Raspberry Pi and a host of other technology topics.
Just after 4 o’clock an announcement was made that the Closing Ceremony was about to take place – including an award ceremony for the overall “Coolest Projects” based on what the judges had seen throughout the day. The Ninjas sat patiently as the hosts (Irish Television personalities) took to the stage to begin announcing the winners. There were a variety of categories, each reflecting the broad technology disciplines that the Projects could be grouped under – as well as age groups that the Ninjas fell into. As the winner and runner-up in each category was announced they made their way to the stage to collect their prizes in a brilliantly chaotic riot of cheers, applause, high-fives and good wishes.
As the results for the Scratch category were read out, we waited with baited breath. Scratch is a programming language hugely popular with Ninjas, and the basis for Lucas and Michaels’ game. The hosts ran through the age categories from the 8 year olds upwards…then they came to the age category that the boys were in.
“And the runners up for this category – Lucas and Michael!!!”
The boys were on cloud 9 after the result and ran over to join us with their prizes clutched in their hands.
2nd place at their first attempt in a worldwide category! A first ever prize for a Scottish Dojo! What an end to a magical day!
I’d like to thank Sean Watson, the boy’s mentor at their Dojo – whose enthusiasm, knowledge and infinite patience are a credit to the CoderDojo network. I’d like to acknowledge the work of Craig Steele (founder of CoderDojo Scotland) and Dr. Martin Goodfellow (leader of the Glasgow Dojos) – whose vision and drive have created a Coding community in Glasgow and Scotland which is truly beneficial to the lives of young people. Natalie Price’s contribution has been immense – her dedication, kindness and friendship helped myself and Lucas immeasurably throughout the last year. I’d like to say a massive THANKS, MATE – to Michael Young, CEO of MBN Solutions, who stepped up to the plate with sponsorship to help make the trip slightly easier on the wallet for myself and Michael’s parents.
Finally, I’d like to thank Lucas, Michael and all the Ninjas I met in Dublin.
I’m old. I’m tough. I’m cynical. I know I can be scary – but you guys brought tears to my eyes.
When these Ninjas take over, there’s hope for us all.
The photograph above is from an article on the boys first published in Glasgow’s Evening Times Newspaper. A link to that article can be found here.