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Coding Activities for Events and Programs

Hosting an Event

Hosting a coding event is exactly like planning any other library program--you are inviting people to be curious together! Just because you might not be a coding expert (or have zero experience), does not mean that you have nothing to offer your patrons. There is an abundance of ready-to-go coding events available to suit your library’s needs, from passive programs such as making binary bracelets to one-time group events like Hour of Code.

Coding Activities for Events and Programs

Planning and Implementing a Coding Event
  1. Identify your audience. Will your program be for preschool youth? Fifth graders? A high school Minecraft club that you want to pull into coding? Adults after work on Fridays? Or, a mix of all ages?
  2. Identify what type of activity you would like to host. To help narrow down your options, and ensure that your program will bring high interest, consider performing a mini-needs assessment of your community’s coding needs. Ask 2-3 staff members, 2-3 regular patrons, and 2-3 non-library users about coding, and what activities they would like to learn at a library event. Make note of their responses, and see if you can see any trends. Do multiple people ask about learning to code apps, for example? Consider planning a program around your audience's suggestions. Once you have some ideas for programs that your audience might be interested in, identify a staff member who will lead or plan the activity.
  3. Try the activity yourself! If it suits your needs, gather all equipment and materials needed for a group activity, and begin to promote the event. Libraries in your system and/or system staff may have graphics and marketing text that you can duplicate for your event. 
  4. Identify possible volunteers to help on the day of the event. Everyone learns at different rates, and it helps to have several hands on deck.
  5. Remember to do a test run of any equipment before the day of the activity. Make sure that the equipment works as planned, and that it is at the age appropriate level of your target audience. If not, look online or ask additional staff for suggestions on how to make adjustments.
  6. At the start of the event, let attendees know why the library is offering coding events, and how you are also a learner.
  7. During the coding event, make careful observations and take notes on what worked well, what could be modified, and what challenges arose.
  8. Invite the audience to fill out an evaluation form at the end of the event to provide additional feedback on their experiences.

Give yourself a pat on the back for trying something new, and offering your community a taste of coding.

Integrating Coding into Existing Library Programming

You do not have to plan a whole program around coding to create exposure and interest in the topic. Consider using coding gadgets or activities as a “welcome” or “warm-up” activity during existing library programs. For example, try offering a short coding activity at the start of an adult book club. Many novels are structured around a formula, and many coding activities model similar structural devices. Another example would be be to offer a coding activity about communication during a library program about diversity or civic matters as a way of illustrating intention and messages.

Activities for Group Events (Led by Library Staff)

Coding Activities for Early Childhood

Coding Activities for Elementary and Middle School Aged Youth

Coding Activities for High School Aged Youth

Coding Activities for Adults

Passive Coding Activities (Organized, but not Led by Library Staff)
  • offers numerous “Unplugged” activities that do not require computers and can be modified for patrons to do on their own with modest instructions and set up
  • Robot Turtles and Frogs and Cupcakes: Place the game on a table with instructions for free-play time.
  • Scratch Jr and Kodables: Preload these apps on your library patron media devices. The Scratch Jr app is compatible with both iPad and Android devices. The Kodables app is compatible with ony iPad devices, or an internet browser.
  • DIY Coding Projects: A simple search online or on Pinterest will reveal dozens of ideas for coding themed passive programming stations. Simply provide the supplies and instructions, and your audience will create at their own pace.
  • Binary Bracelets: Learn the basics of binary code while creating a cool piece of jewelry. Also, a great way to increase coding interest for girls.
  • Program a Friend: Teach basic computational thinking by demonstrating that the smallest actions of a computer program need to be written in code before the program is able to move to the next step. Have a friend perform a simple task by the group writing instructions for them.
  • Lego STEM activities: A simple search on Pinterest will reveal dozens of options. This can be a great addition to already established Lego clubs at the library.
  • CSTeachingTips: Developed with the goal of assembling teaching strategies to help teachers anticipate their student’s difficulties while learning, these “tips” provide talking points to build on your audience’s strengths while learning new tasks in coding. Have these tips handy to reduce frustrations from your patrons by giving gentle encouragement. For example, when a patron experiences difficulties with “bugs” in their program or project, remind them that even programs written by professional programmers never work the first time.
  • CSUnplugged: Sponsored by Google, this collection of resources is assembled under a creative common license, making the lesson plans free to edit and share. Choose from a variety of plans to get your audience moving with paper, string, cards, and running around to bring coding lessons to life through real-world experiences. Want to try to explain something cool to your group? Try the Cryptographic Protocols lesson plan! All you need is paper and a dozen buttons to demonstrate this concept by showing how two people who do not trust one another can agree on the future outcome of a random coin flip!
  • MKE Mixer Boxes: A resource that is available to any library in the Milwaukee County Federated Library System. To participate, simply request a Mix box of resources to be delivered to your library. Two current Mix is “Coding/Programming” themed and includes 3D making, robots, Lego WeDo, and Mindstorms. Do you want to see this offered in your library system? Start a project in your area to grow this idea all over the state!
Ideas for Multi-day Coding Programs
  • Introduce upper middle school students-adults to CodeAcademy. A free account allows introduces users to the default course on HTML and CSS basics where a brief explanation of the topic is presented along with a “live” screen where users can edit the code, click a “Run” button, and see the results of their edited text immediately. Additional courses can be chosen. This site does have a paid option to open up additional features.
  • Unlock the magic of Pixar with Kahn Academy, sponsored by Disney, by animating a bouncing ball, building a swarm of robots, and making virtual fireworks explode.
  • Learn to be a computer programmer with Treehouse, a paid subscription service to hundreds of courses. The first 7 days are free.
  • Check out this one hour webinar from Tech Soup called "Coding Clubs: Youth Programming for Public Libraries"
  • Follow the Sowing Seeds Librarian blog for coding inspiration from Brewer Public Library in Richland Center, WI.

For questions about this information, contact Tessa Michaelson Schmidt (608) 267-5077