Coolest Projects showcases creativity of young coders

Access Science: This year’s Coolest Projects event promises plenty of fun and discovery

Lightron the Robot with CoderDojo participants at a CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards at the RDS, Dublin.  Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

Lightron the Robot with CoderDojo participants at a CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards at the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

 

Imagine a computer game that could encourage kids to eat fruit and then put the leftovers neatly into the bin. Last year, three 10-year-old coders from Dublin did more than imagine such a game: they made it for the fun of figuring it out.

Called Fruit Ninja, they designed and programmed the game themselves at CoderDojo in Dublin City University, one of 1,250 CoderDojos running in 69 countries, where young people learn to programme computers and build robots.

“We made the game using Scratch [a computer coding language],” explains Ellie McDonnell. “There was a bin and a bowl and we coded it so that all the fruit has to go into the bowl and skins and cores go into the bin, and you can play it on your own or against another player.”

McDonnell made the game with Naoise Koppel and Emer Morgan, and the three entered their work into Coolest Projects in 2016, scooping a category prize.

Cool projects

“Coolest Projects is an event for young people within CoderDojo community to demonstrate the great work and projects they have been creating in their local Dojo over the last year,” explains Coolest Projects co-creator Noel King, who mentors at CoderDojo DCU.

The annual showcase started in Ireland with a handful of projects in 2012 and has grown rapidly: this year they expect young coders from 17 countries including Australia and Japan to demonstrate about 650 projects at the RDS in Dublin. The presenters range in age from seven to 17 and the average age of the coders this year is 11.

Robot advances

McDonnell recalls the excitement of the Coolest Projects event last year: “We went in thinking that would be a really fun day, and then we ended up winning a prize so we were really happy,” she says. “We got to look at other projects that were there too – one of us would stay with our stand to explain our Fruit Ninja game to people, and then the others would go and have a look around.”

This year the three coders, all now aged 11, are building a robot and an associated website to showcase at the Coolest Projects 2017, which takes place later this month.

When I visit the CoderDojo session in DCU, Morgan is troubleshooting technical issues with the robot while McDonnell and Koppel are busily building the website. “Some parts of the project have been easy but we have had to figure out how to get some other things working,” explains McDonnell, who is looking forward to playing a GAA match after the coding session.

Family day out

So what can we expect from Coolest Projects this year? “We have designed a family day out, full of technology, creativity and discovery,” says King, speaking to me while mentoring a 14-year-old coder who is making a drone respond to music.

“On the day, Coolest Projects is primarily built around the projects that young people are demonstrating and there will be an Openet Innovator Stage where young people can pitch their ideas to the audience. Then around the event we will have lots of activities that families can enjoy, including a ‘drone zone’ where you can fly and race drones and workshops where you can learn about games and robotics and how to make ‘wearable’ sensors.”

The CoderDojo Coolest Projects Showcase takes place at the RDS, Dublin on Saturday, June 17th. Registration for projects is closed. For details and to book free tickets see coolestprojects.org