The Uncanny Guide to
Successful Code Clubs

We're excited to start this year off right with a fresh new resource for your code club! Over the past month, we've talked with many top performing code clubs in order to figure out what they do differently. It turns out that successful code clubs do 3 key things:

  • Cultivate a thriving, internal code club environment.
  • Create a ruckus in their community.
  • Combine tactics to increase visibility and engagement.

So how do you do that?

In this guide, we'll cover the three things we've found that all high-performing code clubs have in common. We'll show you what it looks like to make a ruckus. And we'll give you a whole list of tactics that clubs are using right now that delight students, families, and the community.

Let's dive in!

Build Your Pillars

Support your code club with success essentials

Every single successful code club we interviewed had one thing in common: a strong club environment. What makes a strong club environment? A core group of dedicated students, a semi-advanced coder, and volunteers.

Only a handful of clubs had all 3 of these elements. But every successful club had at least 1 of these elements. And unsuccessful clubs had none of these elements. If you can get the right people on the bus, you’ll knock it out of the park. Bingo.

For maximum club success, aim to have at least two of these three club environment success factors.

How do you get started?

1. Develop Core Group of Dedicated Students

Many core groups we learned about were comprised of homeschooled students. Homeschoolers are well-networked. Many students learn together already. And coding curriculum is lacking. These make homeschoolers a perfect fit for code club.

But there are other successful core groups as well. One club has a core of special needs students. Another has one family that has 6 kids! Or, it could be the facilitators kids and their friends. As long as a group of students are dedicated to coding together, it makes for a good core.

"This is a great opportunity for the homeschool students to have a sense of community."

- Melissa Lloyd, Valley City Barnes County Public Library

2. Recruit a Passionate Coder

Is there a local student that comes to the library that already knows how to code, but isn't in code club? Perhaps a high schooler that has taken coding classes? A parent that works in programming? Maybe even a retiree? These are the types of people that make excellent resident "coding experts".

Have you been interested in learning to code? Maybe your semi-advanced coder is you! I know what you're thinking - “I'm no coding expert — I haven't even done it before!" We understand. But here, "expert" is a relative term. Often times, it simply means having done more coding than the students new to code club. Over half of the semi-advanced coders in successful clubs were facilitators that decided to go through the hour of code, and do a few missions and workouts in the Prenda software in order to better help their students. Many didn't have any "extra" time outside of club, so would simply code along with their students!

Ever heard of staying one piano lesson ahead of the student? It’s kind of like that….

3. Find a Volunteer(s)

Many clubs we talked to had not yet considered looking for volunteers. But anyone can do it. A few clubs had volunteers that were in high school - only a year or two older than some of the coders themselves! All it takes is a desire to help.

Reach out and see if there's anyone in the community that would be willing to spend an hour or two a week helping kids learn a lifelong skill. Parents are a great starting point for volunteers. Local high schoolers or college kids have also been a good fit.

"The quality of the club...has everything to do with the volunteers. We have a wait-list for volunteers."

- Claire Doctorman

Salt Lake City Public Library - Foothill branch

Make A Ruckus

Ensure that code club is visible and interesting

Successful code clubs put energy into building awareness, getting noticed, and building interest. Almost all successful clubs we spoke with had someone that spread the word about code club. We call this person a...

club advocate!

Club advocates come in many shapes and sizes. Many of the facilitators that started code club are advocates in their own right, like Kara Russian at Huachuca City Public Library, who printed her own sign up sheets, went to the local school, and convinced the principal to let her talk to every class about code club.

Here are some other examples of club advocates:

  • Sometimes it’s a library director that applies for the grant and brings the club to the library.
  • Sometimes it's a homeschool parent, like the family at Valley City Barnes County Public Library who recruited others in the homeschool community to start bringing their kids as well.
  • And still other times its volunteers, like at Buckeye Public Library - Coyote Branch where one was a code club alumni that was really excited to help out.

How To Be A Club Advocate

A club advocate is a cheerleader for the club outside of code club time, just as the facilitator is a cheerleader inside code club. If you, or a parent you find are interested in being a club advocate, here are a few tactics that have worked for other clubs:

  • Try to find a population that is not well-served (homeschoolers, special-needs) and engage them
  • Organize a Code Club Challenge during summer reading (ex. build a game, using Scratch)
  • Promote code club at the local school by handing out flyers (Use our flyer template)
  • Organize a community Q&A about coding and code club
  • Do a radio ad (a code club did this!)
  • Do social media and email marketing (see our Digital Marketing Plan)
  • Put out press releases (see our Press Release Template)
  • Do Facebook advertising
  • Partner with your local school and administer code club on their campus

These are just a few ideas. But the possibilities are endless. As long as your club advocate is putting energy into making the club known, they are helping to make it successful!

How To Find A Club Advocate

Parents are a first choice to fill the role of club advocate. Do you have any students in the club whose parents are excited about their student's learning? Any stay-at-home parents? Perhaps a homeschool parent? These are all excellent starting points for finding that person who will spread the word about code club. Other ideas:

  • Elementary, middle school, or high school principal
  • Elementary or middle school math/science teacher (often see the value of STEM)
  • PTA board members

Implement Proven Ideas

Use tactics that are working around the country

In the process of speaking with clubs, we learned of fun, unique, and sometimes crazy ideas to make code club better. These ranged from ways to help students stay engaged with coding, to increasing students showing up, to engaging younger students that are having trouble with comprehension. Here are fantastic code club ideas from fellow facilitators broken into six categories.

Try to implement one or two over this next year!

Best Practices / Best Idea

Snacks

Snacks are important! Winning thing with the kids. A lot of kids came over at first because of the snacks.

Enough said. We know not everyone has budget. So here are a few ways to get the goods for the kids:

  • Have a community member bring snacks or bake something for the club (very successful with one club!).
  • Have a sign-up sheet for parents to rotate bringing snacks for the club.
  • Contact local businesses and see if they would sponsor snacks for code club.

If we were to recommend one thing for every club to do, it’d be this.

Increasing Community Engagement

Showcase Events

Do a "Code Showcase" during Spring Break. Students are told in January that they have 3 months to build something to show off to friends, family, and community. Perform check-ups on their progress each month. Let the community know they get to see what your students have built. Then, like a science fair, have the students show off their projects!

Code Club Competitions

Organize a code club Challenge during Summer. Get a group of students and give them a specific goal for the Season. For example, who can build the best game in Scratch? At the end of Summer, have the students play through all the games, and then vote on the best one.

Coding for Boomers

Do a "Coding for Boomers" event, where the kids from code club will teach the hour of code to all the older people that are asking how to code.

Competing With Sports

Weekend Clubs

If possible, try switching code club to a Saturday so that kids can attend.

Off Season Clubs

Run special Holiday clubs that go for a few weeks when kids don't have practice.

Generate Parent Interest

Throw a code club party (coding open house) for the community, so parents can get more familiar and answer "what's coding all about?" Done 3 times per year has really helped with visibility. If you can get the parents interested, you’ve won half the battle.

Increasing In-Club Engagement

Coder of the Week

Implement a "Coder of the Week". The coder of the week gets their computer linked to the television, and code on the big screen. You can base it on anything you want - number of workouts completed, missions, coolest design, etc.!

Holiday Themed Coding

Do Holiday Coding Engagement. For example, around Christmas time kids can play games on Google Santa Tracker.

Run Small Competitions

Have a competition in the club — whoever does the most workouts at the end of a couple weeks gets candy. Or, during the Summer, award prizes for the top 3 things that they 3d-printed at the library.

Add in Robots

Alternate between coding on computers one week, and doing robotics (Sphero, Ozobots, Evokit, Lego) another. Or, start a second day of code club and do each on one day.

For Older and Younger Students

Two Groups

For older students, if your groups are large enough split it into two code clubs, 60 minutes each back-to-back.

Scratch Jr. Hack for Younger Kids

For younger students where comprehension is a problem, actually print off Scratch Jr. programs (direction arrows) from the app to have paper versions for students to do.

Typing Practice

For younger students, have them do typing practice at home, and print out paper keyboards for them to practice on in the club.

Low-tech / No-tech variations

For younger students, do coding with legos and tie the concepts into code club.

Great Fun!

Strategize How You’d Code a Card Game

A fun exercise is to take a card game or board game off the shelf, and have students write out the instructions as if they were writing lines of code.

Escape Room

Build a mini-escape room, based around coding activities.

Minecraft

Students can do Minecraft modeling in Scratch - that's always a winner!

Conclusion

Code club is a great adventure! We’re all learning and getting better at this. This guide will set you up to succeed, and at the end of the day that’s what we all want.

We can’t say this enough… Prenda is here for you. Please don’t hesitate to call or email. Let’s learn and grow and get better at this together!

Prenda

Build Something

Awesome!

The Uncanny Guide to Successful Code Clubs - Google Slides