So is Scratch *real* programming, you ask, or have been asked?

The next time someone raises a dismissive or patronising eyebrow when you say you are using Scratch (or Snap! or such like) with students, or announces wearily ‘oh we’ve done Scratch’ as if that was the end of that, here’s a three minute video featuring an explanation software developer Bernat Romagosa that may give you some serious ammunition for your side of the discussion. It was made at the Scratch conference in July 2017, and I have quoted from it many times since. It should have been transcribed and uploaded before this, but today it can be a timely Fáilte for the new Leaving Certificate Computer Science professional development being launched in Ireland tomorrow. Good luck to all involved.

At the start of the Scratch Conference in Bordeaux, July 2018, video producer Jeannette gave me the task of finding someone to interview who would make sense, to a non-professional, of why Scratch is such a powerful tool. At the very end of a very busy conference, Catalan programmer Bernat Romagosa (Snap!4Arduino, Beetleblocks) provided us with a clear, simple, comprehensive answer. (Zoot, the cameraman, can be heard approving of the answers, so they must have been making sense.)


Mags – What is your explanation of what good Scratch is – why is it different to what people think computer programmers do – what good is it – how wonderful is it?
Bernat – Basically I think there are two parts to this…the first part is the visual part of the equation, which is what many people only see in Scratch…the blocks based interface, the cartoonish IDE and the 2D microworld where sprites interact with each other; but the actual interesting part to me is the fact that the system is live, you can modify programs while they are running, you can click on any piece of script, even a single block at any given time, and get back a result or have it perform an action, so you can test things live…and you have parallel vision…so eight year old kids are doing parallel programming…whereas I left university without doing that as it was too difficult. Basically I think that’s what there is.

Mags – And I need two questions answered now – you’re a computer programer, you’re qualified – what is an IDE and what is parallel programming?
Bernat – an IDE* is basically a programming environment, but in Scratch the lines get blurred…because the programming environment, the language, and the result of the language are all in the same interface…that’s in part inherited from live languages like Smalltalk

Mags – So you mean the screen we see when we open Scratch – these different panes – you don’t normally have all those open together?
Bernat –  No – so usually in – I hate the word – traditional programming languages or mainstream programming languages – you use a program to add in the code and the result of what you’re doing appears somewhere else, and in many cases you cannot see in real time the result of what you’re doing; you have to run to a complicated process – more or less complicated depending on the language – which translates that into an output. It is usually linear, which means you can only do one thing at a time. What parallel programming means is you can have the program do more than one thing. This is usually a very complicated thing to do in other languages, but Scratch makes it really easy with scripts that can be run at the same time by clicking on them or having them be triggered on Space Key press or Green Flag press or on receiving a message.

Mags – So now I understand for the first time, as a non-professional programmer, why I find Scratch easy to use. Whoa! You’ve done something for us here – thank you Bernat.

*IDE integrated development environment

I loved Star Wars The Last Jedi, which I saw recently in the cinema with my granddaughter, who is now a fan. The Porgs were a hit with her, and for me it was a real thrill to see the stone structures of Skellig Michael, one of my favourite places ever to have stood, given centre stage.

The down side of the visit was the trailer and commercial sequence that preceded the film. All but one human featured was a male. There was soccer games featuring males, car racing by males for males, shampoo for men’s heads and men’s shoulders, Spidermen, Coco, Maze Runners – all with male heroes or consumers only in view. It all took about 20 minutes, and the only girl hero was Alita. Polar opposites in the “you are/are not of value” messages to the young girls and young boys in the auditorium.

Luckily, the women sheroes portrayed in Star Wars eclipsed all that negative bias, and to top off the delight we won an exit door prize of two tickets. Guess who’ll be going back to see Alita?

Megadojo-a-go-go at Maynooth


It was great to have Megadojo “on the double” this year. It has been hosted in Limerick IT for a few years now, so we at Coderdojo Ireland were delighted when the Computer Department of Maynooth University offered to host a second event in the east of the country, with support from the Higher Education Authority, Bank of Ireland and Coderdojo Foundation. There were lots of volunteers from east coast dojos and from the university, and this goodwill was very very welcome and put to good use. The volunteer army was sorted for action by Coderdojo Coolest Projects veterans Ken Whelan and Ben Chapman, and the day went very smoothly for the families who turned up for the workshops and demonstrations on offer which spanned Scratch, html web design, app inventor, Micro:Bit, Raspberry Pi, and a variety of robots. We were lucky to have the added value of Coderdojo alumna Vanessa Greene attending with her mojo recording equipment – we look forward to seeing the multimedia reports of the day.

President of Maynooth University, Philip Nolan, visited to thank the volunteers and tutors, and get a flavour of what a dojo involves. We experienced Seymour Papert’s ‘hard fun’ in the micro:bit workshops led by Lorraine Underwood, in which we designed and programmed flashing decorations for our tiny tree, which we *think* impressed President Nolan!



Kudos to absolutely everyone involved, and roll on Megadojo 2018 – perhaps it might grow to take place across three venues?


The Quiet Unconference that is CongRegation

IMG_20171127_120113CongRegation is the unconference whose entry is via a blog post. This year the theme was innovation. It is the calmest conference in the world. Attendees meet in small groups around the village of Cong, each joining with a different group in four ‘huddles’; coffee and lunch breaks are long in the best unconference tradition. Eoin Kennedy, the most genial and humble organiser I’ve ever met, allowed me a free pass on the beforehand blog post in return for being a chair for the day. Here’s my “apres Cong” post! I was presiding in the art gallery at Ryan’s hotel, which was empty for the winter, or as the witty huddlers surmised, it was showing the exhibition John Cage might have offered. Some visitors put the Wonderbar beer mats to good use:

Over the day, four groups joined me round the table, huddled, and moved on. Each group was a different kettle of fish, and the four conversations that ensued were wonderful. In each huddle, three volunteers outlined their idea of innovation, and the rest of us joined in, asked questions, offered advice. My notes for the huddles, in skeletal form:

Huddle 1
Claude spoke on his father’s work with the ancient LaJolla tribe in California – ain’t no innovation without stressors; Barre continued this theme on a fabulous slime mold analogy, and and added an aside about his uncle’s experience in the French Resistance during WW2; Kelsey on being a “mobile millenial”; round the table were Hassan, Cronan, Pearse, Neil, Thomas and me. [Our general chat was on the changing nature of life from centralised control to more local democratic control; the new ‘roving bard’ spreading cultural ideas; the Trump phenomenon in small town America – it was bound to come up at some stage]
Huddle 2
Paddy kicked off by describing the changing face of a reformed financial advisor’s world; Alex described how automating certain repetitive tasks can make life easier; Jane on encouraging her students to tell it like it is, without the sugar coating or “hero” effect; Morgan, Joan, Jacinta, Gavin, David, Sinead, Conn, and Robyn each chimed in – this was the “busiest” huddle of my day. [There was much discussion on customer journey maps, advice & device, context, communication, and hyperpersonalisation as both a positive and a negative force.]
Huddle 3
Richie began on the saving power of sea swimming and on learning Mandarin Chinese; Anna outlined her purposive mindful digital detox strategies; John spoke of his role in enabling entrepreneurs in Mayo; there was a lively round table with Sabine, Alastair, Denis, Tom, David, Dermot, and me.  [Anna’s ideas connected back to Barrie’s new ‘non-smart’ watch in huddle 1; our collective chat included us comparing advantages and and disadvantages of analog v digital news; we all learned two words of Cantonese: thcoo = go, ren = person; and we ideated a new workshop called Pimp My Pitch]
Huddle 4
By this time of the day, we just had one left to tell his tale – Barney sought advice on creating a culture of learning and appreciating Irish music in his town; he was in the right place as Helena, Karen, Pamela, Lee, Karl, Michelle and me were all free with our ideas. [We had a relaxed and happy general chat – foreshortened by an early finish to go get our ‘family photograph’ taken – on all we had learned and seen over the day.]

A brief word on the “social huddles” – lots of fun and chats and music and food was shared over the weekend – thanks to Lydons Lodge our party had two really gorgeous Trip-Advisor-comment-worthy meals. It is rumoured that some folk had a very late night after the opening lectures in Ashford Castle. The craic in Danaghers pub on Saturday night was only “mighty” as they say in Mayo – how to unconference an unconference? – organise a lesson in blues harmonica playing and let a few dozen loons loose together at it. It is also rumoured that a group of hardy bucks went climbing a hill on Sunday morning.

My own thanks for their life affirming company to my cottage sharing friends John Davitt, Richard Millwood, Pamela O’Brien and Hassan Dabbagh. Legends all.

Lots of the stories can be followed by checking the #cong17 on twitter. All submissions can be read at the website, and in time Eoin Kennedy will publish them as an e-book.

Roll on #cong18 on Nov 23th-25th – the final rumour is that some folk are booked into their accommodation already. Good move.


ps – we still have to figure out a meaning for Regation…







It’s a micro wha’? Come to #MegadojoIE in Maynooth and meet the Micro:bit !

We at Coderdojo Ireland HQ were beyond thrilled when Lorraine Underwood said she’d be home to Ireland for Megadojo weekend, and could run us two workshops with BBC Micro:bit and a fun twinkly lights seasonal theme. Lorraine is a teacher in the UK, whose projects with the Micro:bit are very creative and can be followed via her twitter feed @LMcUnderwood

For those who don’t know the Micro:bit – you’re in for a treat. Our own Microsoft evangelist in Ireland, Stephen Howell, has been introducing it to educators, and it is very very popular with all who meet it. It is a plug ‘n program experience, quite intuitive –  anyone familiar with block based programming can be up and running in a few minutes.

If you want to join a micro:bit workshop with Lorraine in the Maynooth University Megadojo on Saturday Dec 2nd, either at 10.30 am or 3.30pm, you are welcome – but you MUST register at Eventbrite:

Eugene McDonough of Codedojo Ireland had a brainwave a few years ago – why not get 1024 kids coding together, and call it Megadojo? So he did, and it has become an annual event in Limerick Institute of Technology. Never one to stop and rest, Eugene’s new brainwave is to have Coderdojo Ireland host TWO instances of Megadojo running at the same time, one on either side of the country.  Why not? So, on Saturday December 2nd, there will be one Megadojo in LIT, and another Megadojo in Maynooth University. Do the sums – that will be 2048 kids coding at the same time in Ireland.

Everyone is welcome to attend and partake, entry is free, but it is necessary to register and choose workshops in advance. Volunteers are needed, visit the website and add your details:

The support of sponsors are always welcome – if your business can help out with support, check it out here.

Coderdojo Ireland thanks Maynooth University, Limerick Institute of Technology, and Bank of Ireland for the invaluable support they have given to this venture.

Many thanks to the volunteers, mentors, organisers, and all helpers who are busy preparing to making Megadojo happen – on the double – on December 2nd.

Follow the fun at @megadojoIE on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2017-11-19 at 19.52.02


TeachmeetClareI was humming Ralph McTell’s lovely emigrant’s lament last Friday evening while diving to TeachMeet Clare. “It’s a long long way from Clare to Here“. To my surprise, it wasn’t as long as I expected; the new M18 runway motorway shortened the journey from Cavan to Ennis considerably – many thanks to those who constructed it.

The welcome from Clare Education Centre, Director Pat Hanrahan and his staff, and from convenor and curator Leanne Ní Loinsigh was warm and nourishing on such a wild evening. With Leanne at the helm and Pat as Fear a’ Tí, organisation and timekeeping was goodnatured but efficient and the evening flowed by at a most enjoyable pace. The speakers were a great mix of levels and sectors. The full list of topics and presenters is below; with the added interlude of a Go Noodle “hopping on the spot” energiser that Leanne got us all to do half way through the evening. I was impressed that Pat himself was the hopping ringleader, and Leanne also did it with us, Ginger Rogers style – backwards and in heels.

I loved the flavour of the entire evening – each presenter adding their own their tuppence worth on what was driving their classrooms forward these days. Everyone there learned a lot about each others’ teaching lives in a short time. My three ‘take aways’ this time were the two themes that seemed to flowed through many of the presentations, and one genius piece of craft now added to the TeachMeet toolkit.

  1. the “playful classroom” – we could sense the playful atmosphere of many of the classrooms spoken about over the evening – the hands-on maths, the recorded and spoken Gaeilge, the student-led coding, the Aistear programme being extended across the school day, actual food being used when learning about food, the authenticity of using green screen activities across the curriculum, founding a business to learn business, the Tagtiv8 activities taking mental maths and spoken English into the playground;
  2.  the matching of an “expert” visitor with the resident expert classroom manager (us teachers) – e.g. having a visiting computer programmer helping students to design how to learning about the weather by live measuring their actual weather; the craft expert visiting and working along classroom teacher and students together to teach new creative skills;
  3. Leanne’s finalé – her Big Picture review of how we’d got to this point was passionate and heartfelt and graceful – included a rapid review in which she took us backwards through the @TeachMeetClare twitter timeline, to review what we had covered over our evening together – a touch of genius that.

It was a delight also to have two members of the Youth Media Team present with mentor Pamela O’Brien (whom I *think* I overheard saying she it was time she returned to posting on her own blog? Just saying). Amy and Cara (or is it Cara and Amy) recorded and uploaded some mojo interviews for blog. I was pleased to be asked to speak a little in memory of the departed legend that is Tim Rylands, whose memorial service was on at the same time as the TeachMeet.

Many thanks Leanne for a superb Friday evening of sharing – lots of teachers met new others, and shared good ideas. To misquote Fr Ted in his adopted county – Up With This Sort Of Thing!

TeachMeet Clare 17/11/17 speaker list –
Mags Amond – TeachMeet, BreakoutEDU, and pimp-my-badge glowie
Chris Reina – TeachTechSupport – 57+ varieties of apps
Martina O’Grady – Scoil Réalt na Mara, Kilkee – the adventure of replacing textbook maths in the junior classroom with active hands-on mathematics.
Aaron Carroll – Cratloe NS – flipping the cómhrá Gaeilge in 6th class by using the interactive website 
Sean Murphy – Ennistymon CBS – Using Rapsberry Pi and Minecaft to teach coding
Roseanne Healy – using concrete models and graphic organisers to improve literacy
Niamh Quinn – Quilty NS – extending the Aistear into more senior classes
Bryn LLewellyn – Tagtiv8 Active Learning (UK) –  for literacy, numeracy, and movement
Steve Holmes – Creative Computer Lab – how to build a classroom weather station with sensors and Scratch
Cormac Cahill – Carrigaline ETNS – using green screen technology with students
Lauren King – Ennistymon BBS – the Business in Action project and The Tenner Challenge
Jackie Maurer – a potter  from Ballyvaughan – the CraftEd project from the Craft Council of Ireland
Leanne Lynch – TeachMeet convenor – reflection on Why We Do What We Do?


%d bloggers like this: