Tech Club hackerspace
Tech Club hackerspace

Fiona started coding club this week. It was held at the Nelson Tech Club’s hackerspace. Three kids, all about 12, two of them on the autism spectrum and with their workers along for support, the others being boys. There may be a few other kids who come out of the woodwork as the program goes on. A homeschooling mom as the facilitator. They didn’t do anything particularly unique: they just fired up laptops, registered at CodeAcademy.com and starting working, each at their own pace, through the course on HTML and CSS.

Fiona really didn’t need help from the facilitator, certainly nothing that I couldn’t have helped her with. She asked a couple of questions specifically in order to make the facilitator feel helpful. She could easily have sat at home and worked through exactly the same content in exactly the same course. 

But there was a simple kind of magic which helped elucidate exactly what she seems to be craving right now. Because did she sit at home and decide she wanted to learn to code, and register at Code Academy and sit down and spend two hours enthusiastically teaching herself? No, she didn’t. It was not until I said “there’s this class happening …” and she said she’d try it out, and I took her at the appointed time, and left her in the company of others in this designated space. She emerged feeling happy and enthusiastic, having spent the full two hours glued to the course, making tons of progress. It was two hours she wasn’t moping at the house complaining that there was nothing to do, or else watching Netflix.

And will this experience result in her working on Code Academy at the house rather than moping and Netflixing? I highly doubt it. There’s something about the tidy compartmentalization of going to class at the Tech Club that makes it work for her.

We talked together and decided that what works so well is having:

  • a designated time
  • a designated place
  • a designated learning focus
  • fellow-learners present with a similar level of interest
  • a benevolent outside-the-family facilitator, willing to help if called upon, providing positive feedback for good work
  • attendance and participation entirely voluntary

I’m pretty sure Fiona would like three or four half-days a week exactly like this, covering a range of learning areas: math, science, writing, music theory, maybe a few things she hasn’t yet imagined. Sort of a homeschoolers’ study hall. Maybe throw in some facilitated discussions based on readings about philosophy, world religions, political issues, psychology, all voluntary of course.

We can dream, I suppose.

A time and place

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