Kids get cool with CodorDojo and share their tech innovations at DCU

2 Sep 2013

CoderDojo co-founder James Whelton and the youngest CoderDojo participant, Lauren from Co Dublin, at the CoderDojo Coolest Projects event in DCU on Saturday. Lauren won a prize for her app creation. All photos by Conor McCabe Photography

Dublin City University (DCU) opened its doors on Saturday to young coders for the second Coolest Projects event, run by CoderDojo. Claire O’Connell was there to sample the creativity, fun and – of course – coolness of the day. She shares highlights from the day via podcasts.

If you have ever wanted to learn to bake a cake, book a GAA pitch easily or even think of a chat-up line, rest assured, the technology is now here.

Those were just some of the Coolest Projects in DCU this weekend, where more than 50 young coders between the ages of eight and 17 showed the fruits of their summer work and earned a CoderDojo ‘belt’ for making their ideas a reality.

Plus, of course, there was plenty of games and a good dollop of technology with societal benefit in mind – including apps to encourage more planting of trees, to store your medical information in case of an accident, and to enable people to learn to code even if they couldn’t make it to a CoderDojo location.  
On the sidelines, there were cool T-shirts, flying drones, computers you could tear apart and even a birthday cake for CoderDojo co-founder James Whelton, who turned 21 on the day.

Kids aged between eight and 16, from ever part of Ireland, presented their projects at the CoderDojo Coolest Projects event at DCU on Saturday. There were also four international projects, hailing from the US. Image credit: Conor McCabe Photography

Kids aged 8-17, from every part of Ireland, presented their projects at the CoderDojo Coolest Projects event at Dublin City University on Saturday. There were also four international projects, from the US.

But, of course, the main events were the showcase and awards ceremony, which was set up by CoderDojo, a movement of free coding clubs that started in Cork around two years ago and has now gone global.

“Part of the ethos of CoderDojo is that the kids sit down, they hack whatever they are interested in and really get excited and passionate about technology,” explained CoderDojo DCU mentor Noel King, who was a driving force behind the Coolest Projects event. “This awards [ceremony] is a showcase of their passion.”

 Ethan Whelan from Lucan and Ryan Sheridan from Finglas pictured taking part in the CoderDojo Coolest Projects gala at DCU on Saturday. Credit: Conor McCabe Photography

Ethan Whelan from Lucan and Ryan Sheridan from Finglas take part part in the CoderDojo Coolest Projects event at DCU on Saturday.

Cheesy chat-up lines prompted via an app

The enthusiasm was unbridled on Saturday, when the young coders set up their projects and were only too eager to explain them to the 450 or so attendees. They included 11-year-old Adam, whose ‘pick-up lines’ app attracted considerable interest as it generated ‘cheesy’ or ‘classic’ phrases to help you break the ice.

Meanwhile, 12-year-old Joel’s driving test game made me only too glad I had managed to pass the real exam, because my virtual attempt was pretty disastrous.

Joel from Dublin pictured at CoderDojo at DCU

Joel from Dublin presents his project ‘Driving Test’

Baking a cake might be a little less traumatic than failing your driving test, and if you need help then eight-year-old Lauren, who has only just started coding, has an app for that – and it also scooped her an award at the Coolest Projects.

Perhaps a robotic arm could also take the hard labour out of baking. Thirteen-year-old Mitchell has built an impressive standalone ‘arm’ that can articulate and grab, and it even has a light.

And if GAA is your thing, here’s a clever approach to making sure the pitches aren’t double-booked: an online system to stake your claim on a pitch at a particular time, developed by Caoilainn.

Another coder called Daniel, meanwhile, built a website about his musical house – combining his interests in photography, music and coding.

 Pictured at the CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards were twin sisters and participants Aoife and Katie from Co Laois

Twin sisters Aoife and Katie from Co Laois get in on the action at Coolest Projects

Meanwhile, 11-year-old Joseph coded a game where you need to negotiate obstacles quickly, but he demonstrated that it’s a pretty difficult task.  

And Niamh (11) made a website for people who want to learn how to code or hone their skills online.

Participant Con from Cork City pictured showing his reforestation app creation to Intel judges Brendan Cannon and Stephen Blott. Credit: Conor McCabe Photography

Con from Cork City shows his reforestation app creation to Intel judges Brendan Cannon and Stephen Blott

The Coolest Projects are an example of “innovation in action”, according to Prof Brian MacCraith, president of DCU, who has been a long-time supporter of CoderDojo.

“You are seeing students going through a learning phase and now applying that learning to create something with impact,” he said. “And it’s just so hugely impressive to see people growing in that fashion.”

But the last word went to James Whelton, who spent the afternoon of his 21st birthday enjoying the buzz at Coolest Projects in DCU along with fellow CoderDojo co-founder Bill Liao.

“It’s a true milestone in CoderDojo and seeing kids from the ages eight up to 17 building an array of apps and websites and games, and even working robotic arms and all sorts of things – it’s truly incredible,” Whelton said.

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