EducationInterview

Clare Sutcliffe on teaching kids to code

Code Club's CEO - Clare Sutcliffe - talks about starting Code Club, her inspiration, her plans for a global future and the simple joy of helping kids learn to code

This article first appeared in issue 244 of .net magazine - the world's best selling magazing for web designers and developers.

.net: What’s Code Club’s story? What inspired you to start it?
CS: Code Club started out as an idea in April 2012. Linda Sandvik and I were in the process of planning a ‘useful hack day’ when we accidentally invented Code Club. We were inspired to start it when we realised that children weren’t being taught programming at school. We decided that sending programmers into school to teach what they know was a pretty simple idea and gathered a team of writers to write projects that we could give our volunteers. The idea was instantly very popular and we launched with 120 clubs in September. About 100 new clubs are born each month and we’ve just reached 800!

.net: How did you catch the coding bug?
CS: I’m not actually a programmer but Linda is, and she does some fantastic work. She’s currently in Oslo installing arduinos into public bins to make them talk when you put rubbish in them.

I’m a web designer and learnt markup so that I would know what I was designing for. My work improved massively after I’d learnt it and it made me feel all-powerful (probably dangerous!).

.net: How big is Code Club now?   
CS: Code Club has around 1,000 clubs at the moment and we hope to have clubs in 25 per cent of primary schools in the UK. We’ve also launched CodeClubWorld.org, which is a framework allowing people to start Code Club in their own country. Each country will need to translate our materials (via GitHub) and then offer support to volunteers in their own country. We’re really excited to see what will happen!

.net: How do the kids react?
CS:
The kids absolutely love it. A lot of the time our volunteers have to explain what coding is and that the computer games they play have been programmed. It blows their minds! It’s amazing to watch. When they realise that they can do a similar thing (albeit at a simpler level), they just light up. We have stand-out kids across the country, but the one that springs to my mind is Effie in London. She started Code Club in September aged 10 and she’s now confidently building her own static sites and loving it. I loved watching Adam remake Modern Warfare in Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu) too. So much fun!

.net: What would you say to somebody thinking of starting a club?
CS:
I’d say that they were an excellent human being and won’t regret it. Our volunteers say it’s very rewarding and the best part of their week. If you’re looking for fun outside of your comfort zone then 10 excited nine-year-olds all eager to learn to code will give you just that!
Please visit www.codeclub.org.uk to find out more on how to get started.

.net: Which apps, sites and tools make your day-to-day life possible?
CS:
I can’t live without my iPhone. I very often need to be able to react quickly to email (journalists with tight deadlines etc!). I use Tweetbot constantly as Code Club is so active on Twitter. I absolutely couldn’t live without TeuxDeux for listing out my tasks each day and planning the week ahead – it keeps me on the straight and narrow!
 
.net: Who inspires you?
CS:
Starting Code Club has been pretty intimidating at times but I love the scale of the effect we’re having. I’ve learnt that the people who inspire me most are those who take on the biggest problems because they care so much about it. They aren’t afraid of the obstacles or put off by the size of the problem, they just get stuck in.

The web and the internet allow us to reach so many people as well as changing attitudes, changing behaviour and kick starting people into action. The people who use the web and internet well will change the world.

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