CoderDojo teen’s website to be used in UK education

24 May 2013

Paddy Cosgrave, founder of the Dublin Web Summit, Minister Richard Bruton, and app developer Catrina Carrigan. The NASDAQ stock market opening bell will be rung onstage during the Dublin Web Summit on 30 October. Photo by Robbie Reynolds Photography

A music website developed by teenage coder Catrina Carrigan at CoderDojo in Dublin City University (DCU) is to be used in computing education in the UK.

This time last year, Catrina Carrigan didn’t know how to code. “It was something I always would have assumed was too hard,” says the Dublin teenager. But then in July, she started going to weekly, free CoderDojo sessions at DCU and she learned how to write code with the help of volunteer mentors. Within a couple of months, Carrigan had developed a website to help users learn how to play musical instruments, an idea she had for her “coolest project” with CoderDojo that summer.

“It’s a music instrument website with a piano, guitar and drums made with HTML, CSS and JavaScript,” explains Carrigan, who wrote the code for it when she was 15. “I had seen pianos online before so I knew it was possible, so I started with that and then I added the guitar and drums. It was a challenge to build but it helped me learn a lot, and the mentors at CoderDojo helped me with any problems I had.”

Teaching others

Fast forward to today, and Carrigan’s idea and website have grown wings: not only is the code being used in DCU’s advanced CoderDojo class to help other young people develop their programming skills, but it has also been picked up for computing education in the United Kingdom, as CoderDojo mentor Noel King explains.

“Catrina’s ‘coolest project’ inspired a new game to be created at CoderDojo called Piano Rock Star,” he says. “Then earlier this year I was talking to Intel UK, and they mentioned a collaboration with e-Skills UK to define a short course on algorithms for the Behind the Screen project, and they asked us if we had any ideas. They loved the Piano Rock Star so we have been working on building a short course around it to teach algorithms in UK schools. They understood the fun, excitement and engagement this game offered, but also that it also offers some great learning objectives.”

Role model

King describes Carrigan as a “great role model” to emerge from CoderDojo, a movement that originated when co-founder James Whelton (then a teenager himself) started a computer club in Cork. That club quickly went global.

“After only a few months of programming HTML, CSS and little JavaScript, Catrina developed this really fun project for the CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards, effectively enabling you to create your own rock group from the comfort of the internet – quite simply it rocked,” says King, who works as a software developer with Paddy Power.

“At CoderDojo, we always love to spread across learning boundaries and when you create a project that you can personalise to people’s interests – in this case learning how to program a fun game that also teaches you how to play your favourite song on an instrument. This can really engage people in tech at a creative and exciting level, and they want to learn more. This is what Catrina achieved and why we are so proud of her project and the inspiration she has generated from it.”

Carrigan, who is now 16, is still a CoderDojo regular, and she is glad to see her idea being developed for education. “It’s very exciting,” she says. “Doing this project is how I learned how code so I hope it will help teach other people.”

And is there another coolest project on the cards this summer? “Yes,” says Carrigan. “I’ve been asked to make an app for a hospital so I’ll probably use that for my project this summer.”

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