Hosting a family coding night – a review

This week, I hosted a family coding night for all staff, students, parents, and community members.

The advertisement – created using Canva.

After talking with parents throughout the year, I found that many wanted to engage with their children while using technology, but didn’t know how. I’m an advocate of creating with technology. So, with that in mind, I decided to offer a night of coding and creating for all families and staff.

In making plans for the event, I considered time, location, and topics. The last time I held a school maker night (though well attended), several attendees suggested having the event later, after practice. I also wanted to make sure the location would be able to hold many students and parents. So, I held this event from 5:30-7:30PM in our library with the intent of recruiting more of our high school students.

Before creating the event, I searched what other schools around the world were doing. I stumbled upon one school who hosted sessions for families to attend – like an actual conference. I loved this idea. This would give families designated times to attend things that interested them.

I decided to offer sessions in 30 minute time slots – so a total of four sessions possible to attend. Then, I divided up topics by the device. For instance, I offered four sessions of coding on the iPad/Chromebook; four on desktops, four through robotics/microprocessors, and four without a device. You could split this differently, but I thought these would introduce families to the types of devices they could use to code. For each device, I found a tutorial for a coding session. For instance, I found one on Hopscotch with iPads. Every session had a linked tutorial assigned to it. The idea behind this – students could continue their learning and creation when they returned home.

With the schedule in place, I started recruiting volunteers. I sent out emails to our students, our parents, area organizations, and former students. At first, it seemed to be pulling teeth to get volunteers, but I eventually got plenty of volunteers for the event. Advice: Don’t stop asking for help. I found that – through repetition – I convinced more to join our efforts.

After recruiting volunteers, I began the bulk of the work – setting everything up. Since I only wanted our volunteers to be facilitators, I had to make sure everything was set up. The challenge – students were still using the library during set-up and throughout the event. So, I had to continually check on our areas to make sure they had not been “re-designated” by students. I printed off signs, session cards for attendees to take with them throughout the night, and materials for the no device area. I set up obstacle courses for the Sphero with duct tape, card board, and the like. To figure out what I needed to do, I went through the schedule and made a list of all of the materials listed in each tutorial. Give yourself plenty of time for this portion. I started a few days early, gathering materials, charging devices, and printing signs.

You can view the complete Agenda with a description of events, links to tutorials, and sessions.

When the night finally came, a few attendees showed up right at 5:30, but most arrived around 5:40ish.

The hits:

  • The Sphero and Tickle apps were a crowd favorite. But, before them, was the Arduino and the Make Crate session hooked all students! 
  • Attendees loved the choice in the sessions
  • We provided room for others to continue learning a topic if it interested them
  • The set-up beforehand was solid so we did not have technical difficulties

The things I would change:

  • We did not have upper school students attend. I am guessing there is still a stigma around the word “coding.” Plus, many of our students are over-committed. As a new program, it’s hard to gain new members from the upper school. Lastly, we listed topics by what they would learn rather than by what they would create. The next time – I’m changing this to the things they will create. I believe this will help boost attendance since we had a large number attend our maker night. Clearly, there is an interest – it has to be in the wording and the recruitment.
  • More careful scheduling. I paired the Arduino session – a major hit – during the same time as some other topics that would have been popular. As a result, they were not as well attended.
  • In some areas, I would make them more informal. For instance – in the robotics area, I’d like to have this be a full two hours, but for students to pick an area (Raspberry Pi, Arduino, etc.) they would like to explore. Volunteers would be on hand to assist attendees in exploring. 
I look forward to making changes to improve the next event. I also hope to bring in more area businesses who will, hopefully, sponsor the event. Food is a big selling point – which we did not have. I’d even like to add in some competitions for the end of it. 
Ideas? Share them with me!

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