Birr CoderDojo teaches kids to code and to build and launch rockets

23 Oct 2012

Sean Johnson counts down to blast off with Colin Fitzsimons from the Irish Rocketry Society. Sean was one of 50 young people that attended a CoderDojo Birr Rocket Launch in Birr Castle Demesne recently

It seems the kids don’t just want to code, they want to reach for the stars. And why not? The Birr CoderDojo recently joined forces with the Irish Rocketry Society (cool name) to get the young coders to combine code with physics and launch their own rockets into the sky.

Deardriu Lally, co-founder of CoderDojo Birr, said the aim of the recent three-hour rocket-building workshop was to encourage children not just in the art of computer coding, but to showcase a variety of fun and engaging topics from the worlds of science, engineering and technology.

“This was a fantastic opportunity for the young people attending this rocket workshop,” Lally explained.

“They built starter rockets, found out about launching rockets, the International Space Station and the costs of getting into space! Our aim is to encourage the creativity of young people, primarily through coding and other engaging ways. Who knows, at this rocket workshop, we might have the first Irish man or woman into space!”

Model rocketry is a great place to start before moving on to high-power or experimental rockets.

At the rocket workshop, more than 50 young people learned about the way rockets are constructed, how they fly and are recovered after flight.

CoderDojo lifts off

The CoderDojo movement, started just over a year ago by then 19-year-old James Whelton and by entrepreneur Bill Liao, has grown to become something of an Irish and international phenomenon.

There are now 104 dojos happening every Saturday afternoon (41 in Ireland) in cities from Dublin to Florence, and Tokyo, LA, New York, San Francisco, London and Chicago. New ones are sprouting up in Jamaica and Africa. On any given Saturday, an average of 6,000 kids between the ages of seven and 17 in Ireland and around the world are teaching each other how to write code.

Last week, Whelton was honoured by becoming the youngest-ever recipient of the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship, joining social entrepreneurs that include Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Nobel Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank.

As part of becoming an Ashoka fellow, Whelton secured €100,000 worth of investment through a partnership led by Intel. He has formed his own foundation, the Hello World Foundation, which aims to help other tech initiatives and integrate them with the Irish education system.

Within days of becoming an Ashoka fellow, Whelton was honoured again, named a 2012 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland award winner, receiving a further €200,000 to put into his new Hello World Foundation.

CoderDojo Birr takes place every Wednesday in Birr Technology Centre at 6pm. It will run three hours per week every Wednesdays until June, with breaks for Halloween, Christmas, and other occasions. Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult.

Below: Annabelle Haslam watches as her rocket becomes airborne at the CoderDojo Birr Rocket Launch in Birr Castle Demesne


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years