Coolest Projects creates a buzz for young coders

10 Jun 2014

Overall winner of this year's CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards website projects category, 16-year-old coder Ina from the Selr8r CoderDojo in Cork, with Noel King (CoderDojo), Paul Phelan (Intel) and Brian MacCraith (Dublin City University)

CoderDojo’s Coolest Projects Awards offered enthusiastic young coders a chance to showcase their creations at the weekend in Dublin.

With hundreds of young coders presenting 250 projects, it was always going to be big. And big it was: this year’s CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards at Dublin City University was buzzing on Saturday afternoon as T-shirts got handed out, projects got set up and judges did the rounds, looking for creativity, coding aptitude and, of course, cool. They weren’t disappointed.

With entries from Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy, Poland, Romania and Holland, Coolest Projects has burgeoned from around 15 projects in 2012 to 60 in 2013 to more than 250 this year. It’s now an annual showcase for young coders, ages five to 17, who work on their projects at free, volunteer-driven CoderDojos, where they are using code to create new ways to play games, solve problems and make more sense of the world.

New ways of organising

One of the most eye-catching of the website projects – and the overall winner of the category – used information from the Pulse of the People initiative, which surveys people about their well-being.

For her project, 16-year-old coder Ina from the Selr8r CoderDojo in Cork, created a stunning visualisation of the survey information using shapes and colours to allow users to see, filter and mine into the data more easily.

Seventeen-year-old coder Vanessa also sought to organise information for her project: an app for her school that allows students to access and organise information such as timetables and study aids. Called Marys App it launched recently and Vanessa, who attends CoderDojo DCU and mentors at CoderDojo Girls, has big plans for it.

And for his project, Alex from CoderDojo Oradea in Romania, developed a QR code-based system to register the badges of coders attending a Dojo.

Fun and games

As you might expect, there were plenty of games on show at Coolest Projects this year, and many had interesting twists. Mark, aged 13 and from CoderDojo DCU, developed a football app called ‘Free Kicks’, where football star Wayne Rooney steps up on screen to take a shot at an energetic goalie who bounces between the posts. But rather than just pressing the space bar to put the boot in, the player taps a banana or an orange that is rigged up to the laptop … they were lining up for this one …

Ten-year-old Megan from CoderDojo Drogheda also saw the opportunity for some fun with her ‘pizza maths’ Scratch game. When asked what she learned from building the game, her answer pretty much summed up the general feeling of the day – that you can really do anything you want to as long as you try.

Making it easier to recharge e-cars

The winner of the app category makes it easy to find an available charge point for your electric car if you are running low on juice, or to plan a strategy for recharging the car on a long journey. Called ReCharge my eCar, 11-year-old Niamh (disclosure: the author’s daughter) used data kindly provided by the ESB to create the software at CoderDojo DCU, where she also mentors at CoderDojo Girls.

Coolest Projects kicks off in the Valley

While DCU was the epicentre for Coolest Projects in Ireland last weekend, Silicon Valley also came online, with 25 young coders taking part in California. The projects there covered Scratch, Web, Mobile Apps, advanced languages and Unity, explains Marcy Delgado, co-founder of CoderDojo Silicon Valley.

“The emphasis was on celebrating everyone’s personal achievements and cool ideas, so we had varying levels of complexity and completeness across all projects,” she says.

“Three impartial judges from various tech companies here in the Silicon Valley were absolutely thrilled by the level of work these young coders had achieved. One international prize, provided by CoderDojo Awards/Intel, went to Jake D for his web app called ‘Cloud Stars’ and another Judges’ Choice prize was awarded by CoderDojo Silicon Valley to Akhil V. for his FPS game developed with Unity. In addition, Tynker donated some awesome programming course licences for three lucky raffle prize winners.”

Creativity abounds

Noel King, creator of Coolest Projects and a mentor at CoderDojo DCU, was on hand throughout the day at DCU and spoke online with the Silicon Valley participants that evening.

“This year we saw creativity in abundance – the members created from every aspect of their lives that excites and engages them: from robots to football games to bidding websites to environment apps and even a new hosting company,” he says.

“These young coders have such visions for what they want to create and are taking the learning in CoderDojo to deliver them and consequently turning their dreams into reality. It is truly inspiring to see members who come back and present year on year and to be part of their tech adventure. These awards were set up for the CoderDojo members and it is their inspiration that drives us to make them bigger and better every year. I honestly can’t wait for CoderDojo Coolest Projects 2015.”

For a full list of category winners and runners-up, read Colm Gorey’s report.

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