Pictured: Trish Davies with Otto the robot. Photo by Michael Hannah.
Blog by Michael Hannah
Two Peel visionaries are helping young people navigate the ever changing future and preparing them for working in roles that may not even exist yet, through exposure to the power of coding.
Trish Davies and Trick Cole have both been instrumental in developing code clubs for young people in the Peel region and I talked to them about what inspired them to start the clubs and the successes they’ve seen.
For the uninitiated - coding makes it possible for us to create computer software, games, apps and websites. Coders are people who write programs behind everything we see and do, not only on computers and devices but everything from cars to drones to fitness trackers and even clothing (think real world examples created by Nike and Adidas – not just Marty McFly’s self-lacing shoes!).
Talking with Trick and Trish made me think of my own early exposure to technology. My dad was an early adopter of home computing and used to bring from the school where he worked an Apple II computer replete with monochrome monitor (green screen) and 5.25-inch floppy disks. A very far cry from today’s iPad and cloud storage. He later bought us a Spectrum ZX81 and later a ZX Spectrum to play games on. And my coding skills? Well to play games you had to type Load “” to install the game – and then press play on the tape recorder (yes, the tape recorder)!
So while my initial interactions with technology probably influenced my later life (I was a web developer for a period of time) my coding skills as a child were clearly rudimentary in comparison to what the young people who attend code clubs can do now, as Trick and Trish described to me.
Trish became involved with the Falcon FabLab CoderDojo in 2015 as a mentor and now is the Champion, and has been running the club for three years. She got involved as she had noticed a decline in young people making “things” and the fact that the future work environment will fluctuate. Indeed, many of the jobs that exist now won’t exist in years to come and young people may work in roles that haven’t even been invented yet. Therefore, preparing children for the future is a key driver for Trish’s work.
“I like to see the children ask questions, learn and have a lot of fun. Through this club I’ve seen children improving their skills, gaining confidence and getting their parents to join in.” - Trish Davies
Trish developed the club at Falcon eLibrary and Community Centre, seeing an opportunity to enable young people to build robots and program them at the same time, enhancing their functionality over time. A highlight project involves a biped interactive robot called Otto that children can build and use block coding 'mBlock' to program it. This hands-on project has been the most popular with both boys and girls. The key to this initiative is as much in the process as in the outcome of creating a robot; it helps children learn the logical connection between code and action, and by assembling the robot they understand how its components and electronics work.
The Falcon FabLab CoderDojo meets weekly during school term and is attended by between 10 and 15 young people aged 7 to 14. While Trish talks about the importance of preparing children for the future, her main hope is that they get involved and enjoy themselves. “I like to see the children ask questions, learn and have a lot of fun. Through this club I’ve seen children improving their skills, gaining confidence and getting their parents to join in.” she said.
Similar themes emerged in my discussion with Trick Cole, the Community Development Officer at the Shire of Murray. In 2018 he established a Code Club with the Murray Library for children between the ages of 8 and 15. Similar to CoderDojo, Code Club is a network of coding clubs for kids. The local club is clearly popular with 12 children currently involved and another 12 on the waiting list. While there is much demand, Trick needs the support of volunteer mentors and additional facilities. He’s grateful for the help from the local community and recently received 15 laptops from Mandurah Muscateers.
'Whether young people choose a career in coding and technology or not, through participation in code clubs they learn a number of skills that are transferable to many jobs and scenarios.'
In talking with Trick it’s clear that he’s passionate about preparing children for the future through learning to code in a context of how it can be applied in the real world. He’s an advocate for the local community and Peel more broadly, with one of his key reasons for encouraging children to be involved in coding is the current trend for younger people to leave the area to pursue careers. Coding however offers an opportunity to work remotely, while remaining in the region to live. Trick wants people to bring all ideas to the club. “We’re a progressive local government with many skilled people who are eager to explore technology and how it can be applied in the community.” he said.
Trick is keen to see younger people involved in all aspects of technology – he described the use of virtual reality and benefits provided by 3D printing, something he’s keen to introduce in future.
One of the main points discussed by both Trick and Trish was the side benefits of being involved in code clubs. Whether young people choose a career in coding and technology or not, through participation in code clubs they learn a number of skills that are transferable to many jobs and scenarios – testing, attention to detail, problem solving, supporting their peers, working to deadlines and completing projects – just to name a few.
Another pleasant surprise is that both clubs have pretty much a 50/50 split in terms of male/female participation – the clubs are open to all. In addition, both Trick and Trish have seen parents becoming involved, supporting their children and learning new things themselves.
Want to get involved?
If you’re keen to get involved in coding or helping out by being a mentor, Trick and Trish want to hear from you.
About the Author
Michael is a Mandurah local who has worked in digital, marketing and communications environments for the majority of his career. He loves to run and spends a lot of his spare time training for marathons. You can follow him on Twitter @michaelphannah