Collaborative Pioneer Interview with Giustina Mizzoni from CoderDojo

Giustina Mizzoni from CoderDojoCoderDojo is a global movement of free p2p coding clubs for young people. Giustina Mizzoni, CoderDojo’s Development Lead, tells us how CoderDojo is about building learning communities while encouraging creativity and having fun.

The easiest way to explain CoderDojo is …

Giving kids and young people all over the world better access to the magic behind the technology that surrounds us and impacts almost everything that we do in our lives, CoderDojo is a global community of free programming clubs for young people. At a CoderDojo club (a “Dojo”), 7 to 17 year olds learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and explore technology. There is also a focus on community, peer learning, youth mentoring and self-led learning.

Where did the idea come from?

Founded in June 2011 by (then) 18 year old James Whelton and Bill Liao in Cork, Ireland the movement has scaled rapidly. James became well known for hacking the iPod Nano and creating watch faces for the device. Once other students heard about this they wanted to learn how to do the same, so James set up an after-school class where he could teach people how to computer program. Thus CoderDojo was born out of a huge demand for a way to learn how to code in a fun and interesting way — and a lack of facilities to do this. Bill Liao saw the potential in this movement and become involved. They believed that learning to program would become more universal and useful than spoken languages in the years to come.

What’s the story behind the name?

Coder is another name for someone who does computer programming while a Dojo is a Japanese word refers to a temple of learning. That’s what CoderDojo is about – it’s not teaching, it’s about creating spaces where young people can learn.

What made CoderDojo successful from the start?

At the time there was no other movement of its kind. As the technical skills gap deepens, there is more of a need for people to learn to code. When CoderDojo was beginning this was becoming more evident so it was the perfect time to begin something which could help to overcome the skills gap. Technical people empathise with the movement, for many attending a fun, social coding club as a child is something they would have loved, so are compelled to get involved and create these spaces for the young people of today.

How many countries does CoderDojo serve today?

CoderDojo has been steadily growing since 2011. As of June 2015 there are now over 740 Dojos spread across 58 countries ranging from places such as the UK, Nigeria, Japan, Ireland and the USA.

In your opinion, why has CoderDojo been so successful?

There are many reasons CoderDojo has been successful. Its open source model enables local champions to take ownership of their club and adapt it to their local community’s needs. There is also very much a global community, and volunteers and mentors feel part of and connected to this community. These are two of the reasons that CoderDojo has been a success.

And what has been the biggest challenge to overcome?

For many Dojos, particularly those in rural areas or developing countries, it can be difficult to find enough technical mentors who are able to volunteer at Dojos. For other Dojos in underserved regions, hardware is a challenge. We are working to overcome both of these through piloting remote mentoring and negotiating hardware partnerships.

How is CoderDojo disruptive to other business models?

The movement is entirely volunteer led and open source. No one will ever have to pay to join a Dojo or to set one up. There is no curriculum and the children are, for the most part, allowed to learn and make whatever they want. CoderDojo gives children the opportunity to become digital creators rather than consumers and offers them the chance to become adept at a skill that will be in very high demand as they grow up. The unique approach to learning teaches young people more than just how to code. They help each other through peer to peer learning where they ask each other how to do things before asking their mentor. They are encouraged to collaborate with other young people in their Dojo which promotes teamwork and a sense of community among them.

A unique statistic that surprises people about CoderDojo is…

CoderDojo clubs reach over 35,000 children across the world on a monthly basis.

What do you think differentiates CoderDojo from other programming clubs?

Our ethos and culture differentiate us from other organisations. Self-led learning, peer learning and youth mentoring are all central aspects to the movement.

Can you share a unique “Dojo” story?

A twelve year old girl called Kathleen Marie from Clondalkin, Dublin started CoderDojo two years ago. Before that she had never used a computer. As a member of the travelling community, Kathleen Marie experienced a lot of bullying. But through CoderDojo she was able to use these experiences in a positive way by creating an app to help other children who have been victims of bullying. Since then she has been a runner-up in the CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards and was the winner of the Youth category in the Traveller Pride Awards 2015. Kathleen is one child of thousands who have been positively affected by CoderDojo.

What are future plans?

CoderDojo’s ultimate goal as an open-source community is to provide every young person with the tools and guidance they need to learn how to code for free. We hope that more and more young people will sign up to their local Dojo and give themselves the opportunity to become the next generation of digital creators. With over 740+ Dojos worldwide, we hope to continue to expand so that there is a Dojo accessible for everyone. No one should be left behind in our ever expanding, ever changing society. This is why CoderDojo should be a part of every 7 to 17 year old’s life. We hope to continue to expand into new countries and to make it so that every child has a local Dojo.

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