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/images/7/7f/Belts_Guide1.pdf

On 12th May 2012 CoderDojo Drogheda were the first Dojo globally to award belts in CoderDojo. Here is our experience and thoughts on ideas how to develop this further.

Background

Previously there had been a discussion on Google Groups including James Whelton and Ben Chapman with Dojo mentors and parents from Drogheda where the ideas of belts, awards, encouragement and assessing skill levels. This led James to update the belt ranking page on coderdojo.com.

From there we spent a lot of time discussing the issues of fairness, achieving skill (not just giving empty awards), pressure from parents, mentors and kids, etc. Below are our thoughts on what might be the best way to put this into practice.


Divergence between Dojos

There is a danger that some Dojos may be tempted to go there own way and decide white belts are for younger kids and blue for older, etc which breaks away from the original idea of belts suggested James Whelton and from the thinking below.

While each Dojo is autonomous and that is generally a good thing belts must mean similar things across all Dojo's locally and globally so that we can all communicate, share and help each other. On a practical level we have already had one Dojo member move from attending CoderDojo Drogheda to Kilkenny and it was great to see that his white belt for attendance was recognised in his new Dojo!

This topic is still being discussed via the CoderDojo Organisers Google Group. At present the consensus information on USB belts is available here.

Belt Awarding Principles

Here are the principles we adopted in Drogheda...


Belts show progression through a particular discipline

We felt strongly that you could be a yellow or blue or red belt in a particular discipline e.g. Scratch and then start in another discipline once you are ready. Thus we acknowledge different levels are possible with different programming languages.

For example a Dojo member could

  • Attend 5 Dojos and qualify for a white belt
  • Obtain a yellow and blue belt in, say, Scratch and
  • Once ready, try to achieve a yellow belt in Web Development (HTML/CSS), Python, etc

After all ... A blue belt in Karate does not a blue belt in Judo make!  :)


Note: There was some discussion on if you could get to be a black belt in any language without having a solid knowledge of at least one other - and there may be merit in that argument but for now we're concentrating on white, yellow and blue belt levels.


Frequency

In our Dojo, we agreed we would do belt awarding ceremonies no more than once every 4/6 weeks so that Dojos would not all be focused on 'awards' which would be a bad thing and would turn us into something like schools - which is not cool! :)


Purchasing USB Belts

We got pricing from two suppliers for the USB belts and sponsorship from the local Institute DkIT - I have included these details on Purchasing USB Belts.


Awarding Belts

Here are some guidelines on awarding belts as a Dojo.

The belts have to have 'value' and reward achievement (not just service) so it is important for mentors and kids that there are rules (the kids really understand this).

Note: It is really important that Dojo's don't fall into competing against each other on number of belts awarded :) Let's keep the standard high and work with the kids to develop talent one to one rather than become obsessed with belts and badges!


Communicate Clearly to everyone in your Dojo

Take time to understand the guidance here, challenge and discuss it and if possible attend a belt giving ceremony in a Dojo that has done it already if possible.

The kids and parents really want to get belts but what they want more than anything else is fairness. So explain to them all:

  • No one has a right to a belt - it must be earned
  • We (the whole Dojo - mentors, parents and all club members) will help you get there
  • We will be clear about what is required to get to the next belt level
  • We will give you feedback for next time if you did not make it
  • An element of Social Good is a must - (e.g. mentoring others in the Dojo, making a website for a charity, teach elderly people to use the net, etc.)
  • What the difference between a White/Yellow/Blue belt is (e.g. for Scatch, HTML/CSS, Python, etc.) - see below.


Applying for a Belt

'Applying' sounds very formal but the basic idea is that anyone once can request to be assessed for a belt. Mentors then discuss with that person what is needed for the next belt for them and agree between the how best to demonstrate them. E.g. build your own website to do this or that, build a 2 character game in Scratch with a high score table, etc..

So there are three steps to this

  • Learn Skills (badges) - these are the practical skills that are picked up at Dojos week in, week out
  • Put Skills into Practice - demonstrate that skills are understood and are being put into practice together (not just transcribed)
  • Recognition - Belts are awarded based on recognition from Mentors and peers


Putting this into practice what we did was:

  1. Pick a week to award belts
  2. Explain what was needed to be a yellow or blue belt
  3. Work one to one with everyone to set a challenge of interest them to achieve a belt
  4. Two Mentors evaluate if the challenge is achieved and is enough to award a belt
  5. Award the belt or provide feedback on how to take the project a bit further to be ready next time (see 'Making the Decision to Award a Belt ' below)


Making the Decision to Award a Belt

Agreement and Consistency is absolutely key to this so we decided to have a not quibble unanimous decision process and importantly support and guidance if the Dojo member is not ready.

To ensure the rules did not change with the mentor we agreed that

  • at least 2 mentors would have to agree that the Dojo member was ready to go for his/her belt
  • that any of the mentors involved could veto the decision
  • veto would be respected (no arguments! :)

If someone is not ready to be considered for a higher belt they must be given clear instruction on what they needed to work on to be ready next time.

It is important to follow the 'Above All, Be Cool' philosophy here. It is not cool to upset someone or make them feel a failure - so approaching things sensitively is important but equally it is not cool to make an award that has no real worth or meaning so a balance is needed!

White Belts

  • Attend 5 Dojos

White belts are the only belt that is awarded for attendance rather than skill.

  • We explained the belts as 'A sign of your commitment and membership to the Dojo' - by attending 5 Dojo's you have been part of the CoderDojo story and are now a full member of the club.
  • NO OTHER BELTS CAN BE AWARDED WITHOUT FIRST ACHIEVING A WHITE BELT - no matter how good a person is we think they should also show commitment to the Dojo first
  • That does not exclude someone applying for a yellow/blue belt and being awarded a white and yellow/blue belt on the same day.
  • Keeping a strict attendance list/system - how else will you know who has got to 5 Dojos and deserves a white belt?


Yellow / Blue / All other Belts

Other belts are awarded based on skills learned (badges). As the belts progress more complex and specific skills (badges) would be needed but also more independent learning should be demonstrated as teh belts progress from yellow through to blue and onwards.


Yellow Belt (Scratch Example)

Yellow Belt Goal: The goal here was to award yellow belts to all who could build a basic game in Scratch that used most of the concepts in Scratch at a basic level including Pen, Drawing, Loops, Variables for scores, etc).

The 'Scratch Bet tests' document below was great for the younger kids who then understood what basic skills they needed (and were very keen to learn them all!) but they also know they had to really understand it and show off their game and answer questions on it.

  • Must first have a white belt
  • Demonstrate a working knowledge up to Level 2 on the attached File:ScratchBeltTests.pdf.
    • Kids were asked questions 'show how you did this or that' to demonstrate they understood (most) items up to Level 2
  • Social Good - One element that must also be included is that a social good badge was achieved.
    • We agreed that mentoring other kids would suffice as social good at a yellow belt level.

Yellow Best (HTML/CSS Example)

Yellow Belt Goal: To be demonstrate a basic level of competency in HTML, CSS, be able to look up tags and CSS properties and to use this to independently put together a multi-page website.

  • Must first have a white belt
  • To understand HTML structure (<html><head><title><body><h1..><p>)
  • To understand advanced tags and attributes (<img><a><ul>)
  • To understand inline CSS
  • To independently lookup CSS properties (e.g. on w3schools.com and apply them)
  • To understand CSS selectors, ids and classes
  • To use external stylesheets
  • To create a menu (website navigation)
  • Social Good - One element that must also be included is that a social good badge was achieved.
    • We agreed that mentoring other kids would suffice as social good at a yellow belt level.

A yellow belt in 'Web Development' (HTML/CSS/Javascript) will be awarded if most of the above skills (badges) are demonstrated by being able to put together a multi-page website within a 2 hour period.


Note: Blue belt in 'Web Development' would include understanding more complex CSS (block/inline, grid systems, etc), HTML5 Forms and JavaScript / JQuery).

Best of Luck

See linked below a photo of the belts - the kids were ecstatic! We awarded about 25 white belts, about 12 yellow in scratch and only 1 blue. The kids that were not ready yet were motivated to keep going as they understood what they had to do.

Click here to see the first ever white & yellow belts awarded by CoderDojo Drogheda

Other examples of CoderDojo Belts:

CoderDojo Athenry

I hope that helps!

Regards, Graham, CoderDojo Drogheda