‘Coolest Projects’ on maths theorems opens doors

30 Aug 2013371 Views

Siblings Chole and Chris Burke, creators of the app App Theorems

Young coders from the CoderDojo coding clubs around Ireland and beyond will gather in Dublin City University (DCU) tomorrow to showcase their ‘Coolest Projects’. Claire O’Connell caught up with 15-year-old Chloe Burke, whose project from last year has been helping students study maths.

Called App Theorems, it’s the brainchild of Chloe and her brother Chris Burke. The siblings knew first-hand the difficulties that students can experience when trying to learn theorems while studying. “Chris completed his Junior Cert in 2011 and I was about to embark on my Junior Cert. In our maths books, it was always hard to find the theorems – you could never find the one you needed quickly when you were studying,” says Chloe. “So we thought why not build an app for your phone where the theorems are compact, compressed, easy to read and easy to study.”

Theorems go mobile

Over the summer, they worked at CoderDojo DCU to build the app using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, along with Phonegap. The volunteer mentors offered enormous support to the duo, Chloe recalls. “When we needed help they were on hand to tell us about the different code we could use,” she says. “It was difficult to start with, but when you enjoy something it makes it so much easier to learn.”

Chloe and Chris made the finished app available to download for free onto Android devices and have been hearing from fellow students about how handy it was in the run up to exams this summer. “It was such a big help to me doing my maths Junior Cert exam and students said the app was a great help, they used it as a study aid before, to prepare for the exam,” says Chloe. “As it has the Junior and Leaving Cert theorems, it will help Chris for his Leaving Cert in 2014.”

Opening doors

What makes the achievement even more remarkable is that the siblings only started learning how to code a few months before they started building the app. “We had always had an interest in computers but we had never really discovered the coding side of it,” says Chloe. “It was on Newstalk we heard [entrepreneur] Sean O’Sullivan talking about CoderDojo. So we started going to the DCU CoderDojo. We learned the basics and we were off.” 

The coding skills and contacts they have made through CoderDojo and App Theorems have now opened up several opportunities, including Chloe being invited to speak last May at an RTÉ Digital and Mobile Monday event

“People were surprised at how young I was,” she says. “When you go to CoderDojo, you are with people who are quite close to your age and share your interests – but then you see the surprised and positive reactions from other people when you talk about your experience and what you have done and achieved. It’s great to learn a new skill and it can open many doors for you in the future”.

New projects on show

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More than 50 new ‘Coolest Projects’ will be presented tomorrow, says CoderDojo mentor Noel King. The project categories include scratch, websites, web applications, games and apps.

“What has really surprised me this year is the social enterprise focus from the projects,” he says. “There are projects from a website that teaches people how to code, to a teaching Irish app, to an emergency services app, to a hospital app, to a website that promotes the planting of trees. I am honestly blown away by these ideas, and to see such a social focus following the CoderDojo ethos of giving back to society, this is excellent.”

The Coolest Projects event is an important landmark in many ways, according to James Whelton, CoderDojo co-founder and DCU Social Entrepreneur in Residence. “It’s a time for dojoers to get together, show off what they’ve been hacking on, be recognised, see and learn new things, ask questions and make friends,” he says. “This year, all the projects will be new to me and I can’t wait to see new faces, in addition to how the participants from last year have progressed.

“I really hope the young coders get a sense of achievement from what they’ve done, feel a part of the community, make new friends – and potential teammates for future projects – and the hunger to push the limits with their next project.”

DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith is also looking forward to seeing the projects tomorrow. “As home to one of the most active dojos in Ireland, with three packed sessions every Saturday, DCU is delighted to host this year’s Coolest Projects event,” he says. “This is truly innovation in action and it is hugely impressive to witness at first hand the creativity and expertise of this group of young innovators, who have caught the CoderDojo bug.”

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication