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A Facilitator's Guide to Getting Started

This page is primarily aimed at Facilitators across the country who are starting up their own Girls Who Code club. But it's also a good reminder for new (and returning!) Facilitators at Newton GWC of what to do at the start of the club year. Send comments to staff@newtongwc.org

Welcome! The Newton GWC club has been operating since 2014, and we've learned some valuable lessons of what works and what doesn't, at least with the mechanics of getting the club up and running. We wrote this guide to share our learnings with Facilitators at other clubs. Feel free to use any of the materials and ideas you find on this site. If you like our approach, we'd be flattered that you choose to imitate it. That goes for slide decks, online forms, website templates, etc. You're welcome to drop us a line, but it's entirely unnecessary -- just grab what you like and go.

This page was last updated for the 2016-2017 club year.

How to get started

  1. Make a club website. This may be a no-brainer in today's wired climate, but having a club website is the best thing I can recommend. It's a place to post information for parents, share links for coders to use during the sessions, have a calendar of meetings, announce weather closures, share pictures, etc. I can't recommend it enough. I have no particular recommendation of how to build your web-site -- our site is built on Google Sites and it's worked well enough. There are lots of options in this space, but feel free to copy our site as a template if you do go the Sites route.

  2. Set up a domain name (optional). This is just a cosmetic thing, but I think it's well worth doing. For a nominal fee ($12/year) we registered a domain name (newtongwc.org) for our club with Google Domains. There are many services that offer this, the Google one seemed cheap and simple. It also gave us free email-forwarding services so we could make aliases like info@newtongwc.orgstaff@newtongwc.org, or david@newtongwc.org that we could share with coders and parents. It also makes it easy to configure www.newtongwc.org to our club site rather than have to tell people to navigate to sites.google.com/site/girlswhocodeclubnewton. A pretty good use of $12.

  3. Sign up for Google Apps (really, really optional). Our club is connected with the town library, not a school, so we didn't have any existing IT resources we could readily tap. Google Apps for Work turns out to be a great asset. The down side is that it's not free -- it costs $5/month per user. The things we use it for are primarily hosting mailing lists and documents, which are things you can probably do with a free consumer Google account. We also made individual user accounts for just the facilitators (not students). We run two sections, with four facilitators, so that makes $20/month. It's a bit steep, and we've considered ditching it, but it does make a few things easier. Totally optional though.

  4. Run a recruiting information session. This lets parents and potential coders know what GWC and the club is all about. Here's the slide deck from our 2016 information session. For another take on things, here's the slide deck from our 2015 information session -- very different, because the GWC Clubs program was different then.

  5. Decide on and publish a calendar. Important to let everybody know when you are meeting, which days you are skipping for holidays. Link prominently from your website.

  6. Collect registration information online. The national Girls Who Code office has historically not been well set up for sharing with the clubs the basic contact information they collect. We've learned to collect contact information for our coders and their parents ourselves. Using an online form (we use Google Forms) is fast and simple. Here's an example of our registration form. Be sure to get information about parents as well as coders. Young coders don't always read their email, and it's vital to have a way to get in touch with parents.

  7. Run a lottery if you anticipate being over-subscribed. We had the happy surprise of getting 13 coders at our first meeting in 2014, 16 coders at our second meeting, and 37 coders at our third meeting! We hadn't done any kind of advanced registration and scrambled to add a second section. In 2015 we ran a first-come, first-serve registration and it was no fun. We filled up within the first few hours and had to turn people away just because they didn't get there in time. In 2016 we ran a lottery system and were much happier with the process and the dynamic. You can read our enrollment guide for details, including the lottery program that helped us allocate coders across our two sections. Feel free to use any and all of these.

  8. Send email with individual lottery results using Mail Merge. This is more of a preference thing than a general tip, but we sent out the results of the lottery to parents individually rather than posting somewhere a physical or electronic list of who got in. This allowed us to add extra information about how to confirm that the coder would participate, when the first meeting was, etc. It also avoided disclosing to the online world the roster of who is in our club. Privacy matters, especially for young female coders (see, for example, Gamergate). The natural tool for sending out the lottery results is Mail Merge. We are using GMail, and weren't all that comfortable with the privacy issues around the existing Mail Merge tools on the Chrome store. So instead we wrote our own following sample code like that shown in this Mail Merge Google Apps Script tutorial.

  9. Set up separate mailing lists for staff, parents, and coders. It's important to maintain the sense of community throughout the club year. This can be as simple as mailing out a few encouraging sentences to your coders after each meeting, or sharing with parents new resources you discover during the year. Having a way to contact all the parents is a must for things like field trips, permission slips, last-minute cancellations, etc. We decided to make the parents mailing list open to all the parents so that they could use it for carpool logistics, publicizing other computing opportunities, etc. Here's our page describing our email lists. The mechanics of setting up a mailing list depend on your email technology. We set ours up using Google Groups, but there are lots of alternatives. It turned out to be a real pain to set up Groups to allow only group members to view the archives of the mailing list online, so eventually we punted and just configured it as a straight-up mailing list and not a Group with archives.

  10. Make a slide deck for each club session. It really helps to share an agenda with the Coders at the start of each club session. We use Google Slides to make a presentation deck and put it on our club website. We project it from a digital projector, but the coders also know to look there to see what the day will be like. Here's the template slide deck that we plan to use for this year. Here's an inventory of slide decks that we use in the 2015-2016 club year.

  11. Collect and retain Coder's login credentials. Coders are assigned Canvas accounts when they enroll with GWC in the first session. Moreover, those who do activities on Khan Academy or Codesters or other platforms need to have accounts set up there with usernames and passwords. Your Coders will forget these credentials! Normal password recovery flows will also not always work, as Coders often use their parent's email addresses when signing up for these platforms, and then don't have access to their parent's email account during the club session. Our solution is to collect and retain the coder's credentials in a spreadsheet that is readable only by staff. In fact, in order to prevent kids re-using passwords, we generated the passwords ourselves using DinoPass and supplied them to the kids to use. But still, things sometimes went wrong. So we recommend you...

  12. Create a phony email account for each Coder and retain control of it. Your Coders will be asked for email accounts at various points of the year, and they may not all have email. They might be used to supplying parent emails, but this is unreliable if they can't access that email during club sessions. The solution we found works well is to generate a phony email account for each Coder and retain control of it. We implement this using our Google Apps account (see above), though for a small enough group of students you could do it simply with your Google Domains account (see above) if you go that route. At the start of the year we create a dummy mailing list (using Google Groups) firstname_lastname@newtongwc.org for each student. We add to that group staff@newtongwc.org -- that way anytime a student gets sent an account confirmation link, or a password-reset response the staff gets a copy of it. If the Coder actually has their own email account, we add it to the dummy mailing list so that they also receive the emails (makes life easier for the staff). We find this works very well, although it is a bit of a pain to set up. The ability to create an unlimited number of (dummy) mailing lists is what makes this solution work, and it is one of the main benefits we get out of having our own Google Apps for Work subscription.

  13. Name things for a multi-year future. You'll notice that our mailing lists have "2016" in their names (e.g. parents2016@newtongwc.org) as do our website pages (www.newtongwc.org/past-year-archives/2015-2016-club-pages/meet-the-team). We learned the hard way that when the second year of your club comes around, you really want to have dates embedded in all your names. Makes it easier not to have to re-use existing names for the new club year.

That's it! We'll post additional Getting Started tips as we think of them, and also post alternates as we hear from other clubs. If you have a good strategy for setting up a club and it's not listed here, drop us a line (staff@newtongwc.org). We'd be happy to hear from you.

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