The key thing about hosting a coding evening is that the event is mainly for the benefit of teachers, who are being asked, on a daily basis, to impart knowledge to children, sometimes without any knowledge themselves. So, here is some advice to get yourself off the ground:
Keep things informal: I got lucky – there is a pub near me in Twickenham that has a huge function room and they very generously offered to give us this room for free on a regular basis. People like meeting in a pub – there are drinks and food on hand, it adds to the relaxed feel of the evening if you can pop downstairs and grab a pint or two.
Get people on board: Personally, I think you need at least one teacher before you start because they will guide people more effectively towards what they need. You’ll also need someone who knows a bit about the resources – whether that’s a local Code Club Volunteer or a Raspberry Pi Certified Teacher, it’s really beneficial if you have someone who can really explain how those things work. If you can get someone technical such as a school technician then you’re really going to win, but for now just make sure you have some people who are willing to get involved.
Prepare resources in advance: If you want to show how a Raspberry Pi can be used in the primary classroom, pre-code something (I used a PiStop by 4Tronix and had it ready coded in Scratch to demo). Have some Code Club resources downloaded and laminated or bring a project from home to demo and discuss. I always have at least two Raspberry Pis set up and people tend to bring them from home too.
Contact people who might be able to help: I was lucky with my first event that I got some really great people turn up who volunteered via both Coder Dojo and Code Club. I was also really lucky that Pimoroni, a supplier of Raspberry Pi paraphenalia, sent me a box with a load of cool things to share with the group (and have since sent me even more exciting stuff). I got fliers and stickers from Code Club and some PiStops to try out from 4Tronix.
Don’t expect people to send you freebies for your first event, but ask if you can promote their business by giving out stickers or fliers (just no hard sales, otherwise everyone gets fed up) – ask again once your event is more established and prepare to be overwhelmed with support. In May, my Coding Evening attracted a Lego Certified Educator who brought all of his equipment with him and was so generous with his time and advice (he mentioned being happy to run workshops, but there was no ‘hard sell’).
There is a large comunity of Raspberry Pi fans who love to share what they are doing and offer advice so if you can get someone who loves to talk about Pi to come along to your event then you can really enthuse teachers about how to use it in their classrooms.
Spread the word: I advertise on Twitter, CAS, the Raspberry Jam calendar and I ask my local Code Club to retweet the link, I also emailed both my local independent schools via an email group and emailed every primary school in my borough from the contact details on the Richmond Council Website. I managed to find a Google+ group for Code Club London, which is how I found the amazing Marc Grossman, who is always eager to help teachers. Don’t be afraid to call up a school and let them know that you’re offering them free training in a relaxed atmosphere.
Remember, you can’t expect to start off with a room full of people, but if you can get 6 or 7 people that want to know more, you can expect your evenings to grow through word of mouth.
One other thing – I’m really keen for Coding Evenings to be completely free. Please keep this in mind – the goal of this project is to share our ideas and support each other, not to make any money from it.
Finally, if you plan on hosting an evening, please let me know and I will promote it on this site and on my Twitter – you might be able to find more people to help and support you. So, what’ve you got to lose? Get involved!