On Saturday, I hosted a program which was part of the International Hour of Code Week (aka Computer Science Week) at my library. If you didn’t host a coding program during the celebratory week, or haven’t ever, I highly suggest you do it this week, next week or any time. The tools built for the event are available year round. Here’s why you should join the movement to get kids coding: The program combined kid appeal and learning of valuable computer skills, as well as motivated kids to create, not just consume, digital media in an informal learning environment. In less than two hours, kids were creating their own digital stories, images or tools. On top of all that, it was just plain fun.
I’ve hosted several tech related programs at our library and I regularly integrate digital media into others, even storytime. So, a coding program was a natural next step. The smart people involved with the Hour of Code make the process of introducing the concept of coding to kids pretty simple so I had the tools I needed. But how would I customize my program to meet the needs of 8-12 year old kids in my community?
I started by looking at who attended the tech programs at our library, at local schools and around town. What was already out there? What did kids want? What kids were already getting access to essential computer science (not just digital literacy) skills? What was missing? Where were the gaps? After doing some research, I started also asking where are the girls?
While the Digital Divide in terms of access is decreasing in many parts of the US, thanks in part to digital media in schools and libraries, the digital divide in terms of participation (also known as the participation or opportunity gap) is wide. (Daugherty, 2014) The participation gap involves knowing how to use the digital tool effectively to participate in, and define, our digital world.
Nationwide, girls are significantly underrepresented in Computer Science education and IT jobs. Locally, the situation is similar. Few girlsparticipate in tech-specific programs at the library and in local schools in any great numbers (outside of events sponsored by the Girl Scouts), yet knowing how to code opens up many more opportunities to create, learn, build and participate. They do however come to other programs at the library in large numbers. I had a gut feeling about why there was such a difference in girls’ attendance at the different types of programs, but I decided to do some research. After all, I wanted girls to come to the program, and more importantly, get a taste of coding and what they could do with it. After all, diversity fosters innovation.
I found excellent research results in the report, Girls in IT: The Facts, created by the National Center for Women and Information Technology and funded in part by the National Science Foundation. I also found the Made With Code site, part of the Google Initiative to create opportunities that inspire girls to code and explore Computer Science. The report Google published, Women Who Choose Computer Science- What Really Matters, discusses what influences girls who choose to learn about coding and pursue Computer Science.
Designing a Program for Girls
At the library we try to offer programs for everyone. We host storytimes for preschoolers, sponsor events for teens, coordinate an adult book club, lead a LEGO club for kids 7-12, share stories and crafts with remote neighbors in our outreach storytimes and deliver books to homebound patrons. We both design programs for our regular patrons and those who are infrequent or first time visitors. I like to think of this as providing equal access to information while also providing equitable service. Each patron needs something a bit different. I saw the girls coding program as one of many ways we connect community members with information.
There were some fundamental decisions I made to attract girls to this program.
- Made the program for girls only so no girl was the “only girl” (along with an adult they wanted to bring to encourage joint media engagement and get adults coding too)
- Lead the program myself, a female mentor
- Featured nontraditional coding tutorials that include girl characters and female mentors
- Paired girls together so the learning process was collaborative
- Created a lab type of environment so each team could work at their own pace and have several opportunities to explore a tool deeply or move to another one, depending on their interest and expertise
- Fostered the social aspect of the program- the opening activity we did together got girls talking and gave everyone a chance to to get to know each other in a fun way
Yes, most of these individual program elements could easily apply to any program, and will when I repeat the Intro to Coding program for boys and girls in February. But, in combination, it created a program environment that research shows makes girls feel more comfortable and supported so I decided to try it.
The Program: Made w/Code: Intro to Coding for Girls
While I led the program myself, I definitely needed help from the intrepid IT department and a couple of coworkers. I also needed quite a list of equipment for the event and things like secure wifi in the room we were using for faster access.
- Laptop and large monitor for viewing initial mentor videos
- Supplies for making peanut butter and jelly sandwich (see below)
- 10 iPads with Hour of Code apps preloaded (App List: Intro to Coding for Girls Program Tools)
- 5 laptops
- Router for boosted wifi to run tutorials
- Splitters and headphones (1 splitter and 2 headsets for each computer)
- Take home sheets with coding resources
- Paper and pencils for writing notes
Program Plan (2 hours)
- Introductions (5 min)
- What is Coding/Programming (5 min)
- Why a Program for Girls (5 min)
- P, B & J- Coding Unplugged* (10 min)
- Nontraditional Mentors/ Coding and the Arts: Made w/Code video about Miral Kotb & ILuminate (see video above) (5 min)
- Tutorials from the Hour of Code: Frozen or Angry Birds (in teams) (45-60 min)
- Break (5-10 min)
- Coding Apps (5 min intro)
- Free Time (15 min)
- Share-What the Girls Had to Say (5 min)
- Clean Up
*To better explain the concept of programming and demonstrate what code is, I pretended to be a highly evolved robot that they would program to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, based on this classic lesson plan. I laid out the supplies in front of me (jar of peanut butter, jar of jelly, bag of sliced bread, knife, plate) and then had the girls tell me what to do- the very specific instructions that make up a program. There were times when I obviously didn’t understand and they had to debug the program. It was hilarious and effective!
What the Girls Had to Say
9 girls and 4 adults attended the program- the perfect number. I didn’t have girls pre-register and it turned out to be the right fit anyway. The next program will require registration and I’ll target the same number because I’ll be leading the program solo again. Here are some of the comments girls had for me:
- When is the next program?
- The dance video with all of the lights was cool!
- I don’t get to play on an iPad. I loved the apps and getting to play the app I wanted.
- I liked the variety of apps and tutorials, so we all found something we liked.
- The Peanut Butter & Jelly game was fun!
The program went very well in general. The group was the right size and the girls meshed well. They were comfortable together. It was wonderful to see parents and grandparents learning and exploring alongside their girls. I loved the cooperative spirit and the real interest the girls had, several of whom I had never seen at a library program before.
My biggest issues? They were technology-related, of course right? Some of the issues can be fixed for next time, some are issues with Alaska’s broadband. Having unplugged tricks up my sleeve was very helpful.
This article about the program appeared in a local paper.
I co-presented this webinar, Hour of Code: All Year Long, for Alaskan librarians interested in finding out about the Hour of Code and the Intro to Coding for Girls program at our library.
While we received a lot of interest in and positive comments about the program, one parent contacted me to complain that her son could not attend and challenged my decision to hold a girls only program. In all regards, the program created lots of conversation in the community.
Daugherty, Lindsay, Dossani, Rafiq, Johnson, Erin-Elizabeth, and Oguz, Mustafa. “Using Early Childhood Education to Bridge the Digital Divide.” Rand Corporation. 2014. accessed at: http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE119.html