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Getting Girls to Code, Develop and Engineer

childengineer

Getting Girls to Code, Develop and Engineer

With a background in technology and being the mother of two daughters, it is important to me that my children recognize that they can do anything. I was once part of the minority, as a female in a mostly male field, but things are changing rapidly. I thought I’d look at some tools available to help my children gain some insight and interest in technology, beyond video games, iPods and DVRs.

 

Statistically speaking

In 4th grade, both boys and girls tend to like math and science. The percentages are pretty equal. By 8th grade, however, twice the number of boys are interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Women make up 58% of all bachelor's degrees. Of all computer science degrees, however, only 18% are women.

These statistics were presented by Reshma Saujani in a TED talk about an initiative called Girls Who Code.

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The Girls Who Code website explained more about what they do:

Together with leading educators, engineers, and entrepreneurs, Girls Who Code has developed a new model for computer science education, pairing intensive instruction in robotics, web design, and mobile development with high-touch mentorship led by the industry's top female developers and entrepreneurs.

I like seeing technology companies getting behind this idea. Things definitely look differently than they did when I was one of only 12 female systems engineers in a worldwide company of 400 or more SE's.

Our support for this initiative represents our commitment to invest in, encourage, and empower more women pursuing opportunities in technology. 

~ Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo

 

Me too, Mr. Costolo. As a self-proclaimed girl-geek, I didn't know that I wanted to be in technology. I'm the first and only in my family to have a college degree. It was actually a female friend (who was the most technical person I'd met by the age of 22) who inspired me to see beyond the limitations I'd placed on myself. If I can inspire my children to think differently, then I'll do that.

 

Teaching Children To Code

After watching this TED talk, I found another one by Mitch Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten program and LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at MIT Media Lab called “Let’s Teach Kids to Code”. In the 16 minute video, he presented a program he created called Scratch. He briefly went over how easily children can learn to code their own games, stories, art and other multimedia.

The programming tool is available on Mac, Windows and Debian/Ubuntu. As of June 2012, they were working on a Scratch creation tool for the iPad (this after Apple upset educators by removing the app in 2010). Scratch 2.0 (now in Beta) is also set to run on Flash-enabled Android tablets.

Instead of actually writing code, children are able to drag and drop code elements, visually creating their project as they add blocks. The children learn key concepts like logic,sequence, conditions, variables, event handling, threads, and user interface design.

I loved Mr. Resnick’s quote about the importance of these concepts:

Most people won’t grow up to become professional computer scientists or programmers, but those skills of thinking creatively, reasoning systematically, working collaboratively… skills you develop when you code in Scratch, are things that people can use no matter what they’re doing in their work lives.

And it’s not just about your work life. Coding can also enable you to express your ideas and feelings in your personal life. 

 

Logical thinking is never a bad thing, is it?

Mother’s Note: My children are creators at heart. They are continually making books, staging plays, concerts and now making videos. Upon introduction to Scratch, they spent hours building their own game. It's still in the works - lots of ideas on how it should be played - but they easily took to the tool and didn't want to put it down.

 

Tools for budding Coders and Engineers

In my research, I also came across other coding tools for children, including:

Alice

CHERP

Kodu (a Microsoft Research project)

LEGO (Robots! Cool!)

TED also compiled a list after Resnick's talk. Click here for more. 

It's not only coding that interests girls in technology. For those interested in engineering, I recently supported this startup, GoldieBlox, on Kickstarter:

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I am happy to learn that there is much support on the interwebs for girls (and children in general) to be introduced to a technical field. I won’t force my children to do what I do… but it won’t hurt to watch their imaginations soar into whatever work they pursue in their adult lives. There are fewer and fewer limits these days.

Have you tried any of these tools? How did YOU get introduced to technology?

Please share in the comments below.

 

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