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Coding Pirates: Idea Development, Play and Mixing of Technologies

Coding Pirates is a two year old Danish concept for young people, based on IT creativity as well as programming.

It is not a traditional coding club, as such – Coding Pirates focuses on idea development, play and mixing of technologies. The concept aims thereby not to train programmers, but innovative product developers.

Behind Coding Pirates are developers, teachers, self-taught programmers, researchers and entrepreneurs. Today, there are more than 50 teachers who host workshops in IT companies, schools and libraries.

We spoke with Louise Overgaard, Board member of Coding Pirates Denmark, Chair of Coding Pirates Aarhus and Library and cultural developer.

© Benjamin Pomerleau

Can you tell us a little more about Coding Pirates?

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 5 P.M. Coding Pirates will meet up somewhere in Denmark. Adult volunteers play, create, geek out with the children and teenagers and focus on motivation, fun and creativity as the fundamental and essential way to develop the children’s and teenagers’ IT-creativity.

The workshops differ from place to place, but the driving focus everywhere is creativity with technology. While being creative, the children learn to use the technologies. But learning to use the technologies is not as important as getting an idea about what they can be used for.

We work with the children’s motivation and focus on a playful approach while having hands on Makey Makey, Littlebits, LEGO Mindstorms and WeDO’s, Scratch, Python, Ozobots, 3D-printing and other technologies. We try to mix technologies and mix other materials with technology.

How did the idea for Coding Pirates come about?

The first Coding Pirates club for 7-17 year olds opened in Copenhagen in March 2014 and this week we just opened club number 21. The Coding Pirates Clubs are now spread all over Denmark.

The idea for Coding Pirates arose out of a wish for better tech classes in the schools. One of the two founders of Coding Pirates is originally a teacher and he saw a lot of problems in the educational system. The teachers are not adequately educated to teach the children about technologies. At the same time, the schools are increasingly structured around specific learning goals, which make it difficult to have an innovative and creative agenda where the end result is unknown. The other founder is an entrepreneur in the IT-sector and he saw a potential future problem for the Danish IT-sector: “Would the IT-sector be able to hire enough qualified Danish staff members in the future?”

The national focus on the Danes’ aptitude for innovation and competitiveness has enabled Coding Pirates to become an important new societal institution and hence both the library sector, the IT-sector, the educational sector and a lot of entrepreneurs see Coding Pirates as a vital element in increasing the Danish population’s IT-skills.


© Benjamin Pomerleau

How does Coding Pirates collaborate with libraries?

Coding Pirates is interesting to libraries and vice versa. I started as a Coding Pirate while working as a team leader at the Main Library in Aarhus. My team was planning services for our new library Dokk1 and we saw Coding Pirates as exactly one of the services that we wanted to offer our users.

The planning of Coding Pirates Aarhus made me more and more active as a volunteer in Coding Pirates, because I could see the relevance of Coding Pirates for children and in libraries all over Denmark. In March 2015, I was elected to Coding Pirates Denmark’s national board and one of my tasks is to have a dialogue with libraries about Coding Pirates.

Even though Coding Pirates has clubs in various places, we focus on having a strong relationship with the libraries, because the two are seen as a good match. We now have five clubs placed in libraries and we are planning another five library clubs. Besides that, we collaborate with libraries around Denmark to make open events.

The collaboration model between Coding Pirates and the libraries varies from place to place. All libraries give Coding Pirates access to the space. Some libraries bring staff members in as workshop facilitators and captains, and hence use Coding Pirates as a way to develop staff skills. Others deliver hosts that help with food and drinks and all the practical stuff. All libraries get IT-creative services for their users.


© Benjamin Pomerleau

And finally, what’s next for Coding Pirates? Are there any exciting developments you can share with us?!

The Coding Pirates has undergone a rapid development since the beginning. With clubs all over Denmark, approximately 400 children and 150 volunteers and a big interest in creating even more clubs, we need to establish an organisation that can support the work around Denmark.

The national board works intensely on creating the organisation and tries to balance between being a grassroots movement and an established organisation.

Despite the rapid growth of the organisation, everybody still works voluntarily. We fundraise intensely in order to get a secretary – one or two fulltime staff members who can help all the volunteers around the country.

For the next couple of years, we will continue to grow in Denmark – at least five new departments per season. But we want to be an international NGO as well and we are working on creating Coding Pirates Global in order to open branches in other countries. We are not quite there yet, but are talking to and planning with people from Bulgaria, South Africa, England and Sweden.

In a couple of years we will have Coding Pirates spread in several countries – hopefully several of the clubs will be placed at libraries.


Images © Benjamin Pomerleau


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