Coder Dojo 906

‘Code’ is the code word

MARQUETTE — There are Coders. There are Dojos. And then there are Coder Dojos.

Coder Dojo 906 is a community-based programming club for young people ages 5 to 17 who want to learn how to code and develop websites, apps, programs and games.

It’s also a chance for kids to have fun with things like “bot” in them through the Seaborg Center at Northern Michigan University.

“Coder Dojo champion” Keith Glendon helped lead Wednesday’s session in NMU’s West Science building.

Coder Dojo, he said, is a global program that involves “champions” like himself, mentors like NMU students and “ninjas,” which are the youngsters.

The youths, in a way, are digital athletes.

“A dojo is where you train karate,” Glendon said. “Coder Dojo is where you come to train and exercise in coding and computer science.”

Being young, it appears, is not an obstacle to learning the basics in what can be a challenging field.

“It starts over here with 5-year-olds and on up,” Glendon said, pointing to the kids who used Scratch Jr, a visual coding language.

That language is within their learning range, he said.

“It’s very approachable, very understandable, and even at that age, they’re learning about conditionals, loops, variables and how to think logically in sequence,” Glendon said.

That means creating a story from a problem posed to them.

“They don’t know they’re doing that, but that’s what they’re doing,” Glendon said.

Older students used Scratch, which he noted is the same program but more powerful.

Again, the class participants were up to the task.

“They’re able to create animations and programs,” Glendon said.

One of those creations involved an iPad app called Fruit Ninja, whose website, fruitninja.com, called it “The Greatest Fruit-Slicing Game in the World!”

Glendon said they had to think about what they were going to design, how to design it, code it — and then come up with solutions to the inevitable problems that popped up along the way.

Other students used Python, which Glendon called an enterprise-class coding language.

Obviously, this was for older participants as well.

“A lot of web applications are built on Python, a lot of business applications, a lot of video games,” Glendon said. “That’s a text-based language, a much more classic computer science kind of language. Not as exciting and fun for them, but more practical.”

Some youngsters used Ozobots, tiny robots they powered across a computer screen.

Another group worked with programs connected to a 3-D printer from which they could create solid objects using the Tinkercad program. In Tinkercad, shapes are the basic building blocks, which can be moved, rotated and adjusted on computers.

Glendon said that creating such shapes helps them understand how computer science and coding interacts with the physical world.

“There’s something for everyone,” Glendon said. “It’s a little chaotic, trying to handle this many people at once, but it works.”

One of the people handling this “chaos” was Chris Lodge, an NMU sophomore majoring in computer science and mathematics. He was in charge of the 3-D printing section.

“That’s kind of an online, cloud-based solution,” Lodge said of Tinkercad, which can be used to create objects like cars as well as shapes.

CAD, he said, stands for computer-aided design.

The kids’ creations were exported into a splicing program, and then printed on the 3-D printers, which were fascinating to watch in themselves with the creations being built up little by little.

“They usually print within half an hour, 45 minutes,” Lodge said.

Charles Henry, 12, of Marquette was one of the Coder Dojo participants in the 3-D section Wednesday.

He already had a bit of this type of experience, but obviously was going to pick up more during the class.

“I just think it’s just cool to make something, just from scratch,” Charles said.

The remaining classes for the fall semester will be from 4 to 6 p.m. on the following Wednesdays: Oct. 25, Nov. 8, Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 in room 2702 of West Science. Attendance is not required for each session, but participants are asked to register for each class they plan to attend. To register, visit facebook.com/coderdojo906.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.