Encouraging Programming in Kids (EPIK) is a voluntary UK-based youth group for geeky (and the not so geeky) youths to come together to find a home at a local level where they live, work, and go to school. We have kids aged 7 to youths aged up to 25, teaching each other what they know and care about.
Our most popular session by far is the remixing of the Minecraft Java code. We train older youth to become facilitators in the topics they care the most about, to share peer to peer.
EPIK was originally created as a work project to find young geeky people we could employ at ionCube to do our tech support at a local level, this drawing on my recruitment background, blended with my passion for the MMORPG gamer culture. The project was further inspired by an aptitude test created by Sun Microsystems on identifying those with an Object Orientated mindset vs. a procedural one. The creation of the project was also equally a personal need on my part to create a community of likeminded people in rural Kent to promote digital maker skills we knew the kids had but one who had little or no support to development those skills at home or through school.
This project has exploded into a youth centric voluntary group which organises regular meetings receiving support from the Mozilla foundation and local companies that then feeds back into the wider community, homes and schools. Children rapidly moved from passive spectators watching how we can hack Minecraft to active contributors. Some even ended up running the sessions and becoming mentors to the other children. At our first youth peer mentor meeting we had 3 youths sitting next to each other, chatting to each other over IRC. It was not until pizza time when they actually spoke to each other and the others in the room (isn't that what pizza was invented for ;). Several months later they have transformed into socially-able individuals who can both hack code and help each other progress by communicating and sharing within a group session, while also doing it over IRC.
We are particularly proud of the unique opportunity it has provided for many narrow interest children and young people in our region to develop not only an interest in making with code, but also developing both their confidence and social skills in a safe environment that gives them the needed space and tools to nurture a mindset that helps build teams. We are now seeing them confidentially presenting and sharing with large audiences at events such as the Mozilla festival youth zone at MozFest and other technical conferences.
As our offering developed, we've made increasing use of NetBeans because it offers a simple and non-threatening platform for our beginners but rapidly becomes an environment where they can develop professional skills in many technologies. Children are naturally inquisitive and those with aptitude, once introduced to the right tool for them, there is no stopping them.... it will be amazing to track where they end up over time.
We also find the community aspect of NetBeans, especially the willingness of its user-base to help newcomers, mirrors our own core aspirations and makes it a much more productive educational platform for us.
The kids also like the fact that they are playing with 'real' tools and not 'toys'. Real tools, as we discovered with our own daughter, facilitates knowing a tool. At just age 6, over the summer, she leant to sight read music notation, having messed around with the tool piano since she could crawl to it, music in this sense is no different to coding, as both are steeped in transferable skills grounded in self directed learning.
Come to our JavaOne session "Java: Changing the World One Child at a Time—Minecraft with the NetBeans IDE" (BOF2459) at Moscone South - 250, on Monday, September 29, 19:00 - 19:45.