Creating a remote Code Club with Leeds Libraries

By Liam Garnett & Mark Kirkby. Posted

A young Code Club participant working on the Treehouse Challenge

How Leeds Libraries linked coding and literature through an engaging project with their Code Club participants

When our city went into lockdown, we at Leeds Libraries wanted to make sure that we stayed connected to the families across Leeds involved in our Code Clubs. In the past year, we ran a series of challenges for our young attendees, including Moonhack, Arcade Games, Silly Games, and most recently the 13-Storey Treehouse Platform Game that is the focus of this piece. We teamed up with CityFibre — who are rolling out the next generation of full fibre broadband across Leeds — to support the prizes for these challenges.

Our 13-Storey Treehouse platform project was one of the first challenges we’d run as a remote club. The idea for the project came about because we wanted to bring the club together by working on something collaborative. We also wanted to find an activity that would help to establish this new online coding community.

Linking literature to coding

As librarians, we thought about how to link coding to literacy and reading for pleasure. We also wanted to link in our wider online #LibrariesFromHome offer at Leeds Libraries, in particular our e-borrowing service and our Lego club. We were keen to create a project inspired by a book that was available via our e-borrowing service, so that Code Club participants would be encouraged to borrow and explore the book to get ideas for their code. From this came the idea of using the children’s book The 13-Storey Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, as inspiration to create a multilevel platform game. As part of the project, each Code Club participant would create their own level, or levels, of the treehouse.

The different levels of the treehouse in the book The 13-Storey Treehouse offered an ideal structure for a platform game project. Creating a multilevel game also meant that this could work as a collaborative project, showcasing all of our Code Club participants’ code together in one game. The book was selected as the theme for our online Lego club that month too, so there was an opportunity for cross-promotion of our online offer for children and young people. We encouraged our Code Club participants to take setting and game narrative ideas from the book, and to draw on Code Club projects to help them with game mechanics.

Planning the project

We decided on a loan availability date for The 13-Storey Treehouse that meant children had time to borrow and read the book before coding. The e-book was available on simultaneous download status, meaning there was no restriction on the number of children who could borrow it. 

From there, we looked at projects from the Code Club projects site that would support the idea. We focused on using elements from the project Dodgeball — where the player has to dodge moving balls to reach the end of the level — for the platform game content, and the Create Your Own World project for creating multilevel games. We prepared instructional PDFs and videos in advance, ready for when the project was launched. Realising this project may be more time-consuming, we allowed four weeks for it (the previous challenge had been two weeks). We also added in a two-week catch-up Zoom session to debug and answer any questions the families had. 

We used Zoom to keep in touch with our Code Club families

Bringing the project together

We created a Scratch Classroom with a Treehouse Challenge studio for our students to upload their levels to. The classroom also included Mark’s intro level from his instructional video, and Liam’s two-level game from his video that kids with more advanced coding skills could use for inspiration. We included a variation on gravity code using colours, as well as a level from our volunteer, Viktor, which demonstrated how to use power-ups and lives. The classroom could also be used by students to ask for help if they got stuck, and gave librarians an opportunity to track progress.

Once all of our families had created and uploaded their levels to our Leeds Libraries Scratch Classroom, we set about bringing them together into one multilevel platform game. While the prospect of joining 13 separate projects of 19 levels into one project was daunting, a methodical approach helped to keep things simple. This process was made possible by the backpack function, which can be used to transfer sprites, backdrops, and code between projects — simply drag and drop into the backpack, open another project, and reopen the backpack to find your code waiting. Firstly we transferred all of our students’ backdrops into the main project, renamed each one Level 1, Level 2, and so on, and made sure that each platform was black to fit with the gravity code. Next came the obstacle sprites. We added code so that each sprite would only show if the backdrop equalled the level it was supposed to be on. Placing this code in the backpack allowed us to quickly add it to each sprite — rather than having to rewrite it — which saved a lot of time. Once the backdrops and sprites were in place, we simply added code to our main character, Pico, so that touching an obstacle sent them back to the beginning, or reaching an objective changed the backdrop to the next level. You can play the finished game here.

Completion and future projects

This project was a real joy; having the book as a source of inspiration and seeing the crossover of reading and coding in action was a special highlight. Furthermore, The 13-Storey Treehouse became the most popular children’s e-book in our libraries, with 187 loans. The sheer creativity of our students — whether through drawing their own backdrops or creating their own sprites and obstacles — amazed us. We had shark-infested waters, flying marshmallow monsters, toxic waste, burp bubbles, pterodactyls, zombies, and more! Nothing has been more satisfying than adding that final block of code to complete the project and bringing all that hard work together.

For our next project, we will create animated stories using sprites from the collections of Leeds Museums and Galleries and their world of learning resources. Backdrops have been chosen from Leeds Libraries’ photographic archive, Leodis. In September, our aim is to incorporate the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge by creating a game inspired by our favourite silly books.

Top tips for running a remote coding club

  • Collaborate with other learning, cultural, and digital organisations

  • Tap into volunteers’ knowledge and experience n

  • Make content available in various formats to improve accessibility, e.g. videos, PDFs, Facebook event pages, Scratch Classroom, and Zoom calls

  • Create projects with flexible goals to allow for different skill sets

  • Encourage creativity: if students want to try something different, let them run with it!

Authors

Liam Garnett

Liam is an Assistant Communities Librarian at Leeds Libraries. He has been running a Code Club at Seacroft Community Hub and Library for the last few years.

Mark Kirkby

Mark is a Communities Librarian at Leeds Libraries. He has been running Code Clubs since 2016, and now facilitates the club at Headingley Library.


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