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The Recipe for a KCJ Coding Workshop

All the ingredients needed to cook up a unique learning experience.

Erin Johnston
July 28, 2020

At KCJ, we are always finding ways to keep our coding classes fresh and flavourful. We were the first Canadian charity to bring AI education into the classroom and when Canada went into quarantine this spring, we pivoted our programming to online in less than a week.

None of this would be possible without the fantastic people who make up KCJ. In fact, each person is a bit like a key ingredient in one Michelin-star worthy dish! Let’s break down the recipe of a KCJ coding workshop:

Harvest one basket of fresh ideas

Every great recipe starts with an idea. In the KCJ kitchen, these come from our executive team.

“Our job is to harvest, but also to do the right amount of hunting” explains Juliet Waters, KCJ’s Chief Knowledge Officer. “To be an innovative organization, we have to make sure we aren't getting so comfortable that we're never trying anything new. We keep in touch with what's happening on the ground though our KCJ team, our national and international partners, and our government and industry stakeholders to know what skills they hope to see in the future. We've developed a sense of that sweet spot between what kids need to know in the future, and what new skills and ideas teachers are getting curious about and are willing to try. Our job above all, is to make sure that students are learning the things they really need and want to learn, and that the resources we are providing are well tested and feasible.”

For founder and CEO Kate Arthur, it’s essential that KCJ’s programs teach kids more than just how to code. “Why do we educate our kids? It’s a question I ask a lot and it’s an important one to answer. I believe we educate our kids so they become socially and economically engaged citizens who are able to communicate and create in the world around them. This is why, over the next 10 years, all of KCJ’s work will centre around our #kids2030 initiative. We believe that artificial intelligence and ethics, algorithm literacy and global issues need to be at the forefront of kids’ education. They need to learn the skills and tools required to build a prosperous future. We have set a goal to educate 1 million Canadian students and 50,000 educators on these subjects by 2030. Kids have an almighty voice that needs to be heard and, as adults, we need to listen. There’s no doubt in my mind that it is our kids who will make our world a better place.”

With a strategy in place, we’re ready to get cooking!

Break down the steps

Time to write the grocery list and prep your cooking space. In our case, this is when we channel all of our ideas into clear plans.

Without a team dedicated to planning out our recipe, Kimberley Vircoe, Code Create Play Program Owner, says the workshop experience would be like “being invited to a party and scrounging in the fridge for stuff to bring. In the past 6 months, we’ve really been able to plan ahead with very exciting results. We can now bring one of 8 specialty ‘dishes’ (our 8 different Code Create Play workshop themes) to our parties and our partners can choose which ones they like best!”

Maddy Bazett, Code Create Celebrate and Code Club Canada Program Owner, shared her favourite part of the process:

“I love that when we set our targets, our main goal is always to reach as many kids as possible while still making sure every kid, teacher, caregiver, and volunteer gets to experience KCJ’s personal touch. That’s where we make our greatest impact.”

Add a cup of curriculum

This is where our Educational Development team jumps in to concoct our fun and creative lesson plans, the foundation of our recipe.

“We want every kid in every KCJ workshop to have a moment where they think ‘ok, this is fun, and I can totally do it!’” says Mike Deutsch, Director of Educational Research and Development. “We tend to create projects where the code itself is simple, easy to get a handle on and then do creative things with. By the end of a KCJ workshop every kid has found their level of comfort, has mastered something, and is busy making it their own.”

Of course, any delicious meal leaves you wanting a little more. This is where Phil Greene, our Web Manager and part-time micro:bit mad scientist comes in. Whenever Phil teaches a workshop, he always leaves the students with an extra challenge:

“Giving a workshop is more than just going through the material for a couple hours. It's the beginning of an adventure or journey, one of curiosity, exploration and discovery. Leaving the students with a challenge and having them share their solution with us later on Twitter is a great way to continue that exploration together, as well as share it with the rest of the community! It creates an opportunity to stay connected, create a dialogue, and share ideas.”

Measure the ingredients & preheat the oven

You won’t get your bread to rise without adding the right amount of yeast and flour. Same goes for a workshop! Our Operations team swoops into the KCJ kitchen to ensure we’ve created a strong foundation for success. We want our programs to go smoothly for the cooks (the KCJ team) and our dinner guests (the kids attending our workshops).

"Operations, at its core, is the group that manages KCJ’s inner workings so the organization can run as efficiently as possible”, explains Adrienne Jung, Operations Director. “It is the behind-the-scenes work needed to bring every aspect of a project, from tiny to huge, to reality. Running operations successfully requires juggling many moving parts across multiple teams. We do our best to make the small things easy, so the big things become possible."

Stir in a generous splash of community

The best dishes use local ingredients. In order to teach kids all across Canada, making strong connections within communities is essential.

“Community is the heart of our unique learning experiences. Without community, we wouldn’t be who we are!” says Janine Berridge-Paul, Lead Community Developer for Eastern Canada. “We engage with schools, libraries, and community organizations to ensure that as many people as possible have access to KCJ’s programming.”

“It’s about building relationships in the community”, agrees Molly Pletsch, Lead Community Developer for Western Canada. “We work closely with partnering organizations in our communities to ensure we’re offering fun and accessible programming for all kids.”

The team does their best to make a connection in communities from coast to coast, which isn’t always easy as Rita Gervasi, Lead Community Developer for Quebec explains:

“Connecting with remote communities can sometimes become a challenge depending on the realities they may be facing, but our job is to creatively find solutions to make our services accessible. Instead of focusing on what is not available, we shift our focus into how we can make it work within the given context using the tools we have to support!”

Dinner is served!

Finally, your KCJ workshop is beautifully plated, cooked to perfection, and ready to serve! Our team of certified instructors makes sure each student’s workshop experience is one to remember by sprinkling their own unique blend of spices into each class.

Terry Hoganson, an Instructor based in Ottawa shared a story from one extra memorable workshop:

“It was the last day of the 5-day Canvas2Code series and to me, it was a day of celebration as the kids did such an amazing job throughout the week. As an introduction, I loaded up Party Rock Anthem and turned up the volume. As each participant joined the meeting they looked completely surprised and pleased to hear the song - they even got up out of their chairs and started dancing. I played everyone out after the session with the same song and they were even more motivated. I was so happy to see their smiles and enthusiasm for coding, art and sound!”

Come get a taste of KCJ!

Are you hungry to learn more? Join in on our online workshops! We’re offering classes all summer long for kids and teachers. Bon appetit!

You know what else is a whole lot like a recipe? An algorithm! Algorithms are a series of steps that computers follow in order to achieve a certain result. Want to learn more about the way algorithms work and how they shape our world? Check out the Algorithm Literacy Project and #GetAlgoLit!

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