Media Literacy Week: Girls Learning to Code at the Library

It’s Media Literacy Week (November 5-9)! How are you helping youth in your community learn how to access, analyze, evaluate, COMMUNICATE and CREATE using a variety of media formats? 

Girls learn how to solder with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Two high school girls from my community are in the process of applying for NCWIT’s annual Aspirations Award. The award “honors women in grades 9 through 12 who are active and interested in computing and technology, and encourages them to pursue their passions.” Many young women, from all 50 states and US Territories, apply each year so two might not seem remarkable. But, in my community it is another step in the right direction.

While not new, the fact that women are underrepresented in the tech world and STEM professions, especially in leadership roles, still persists. In rural communities, jobs in tech-related fields, and many types of STEM professions, seem out of reach or are never introduced as an option, especially to girls. At my library and many others, girls are often out numbered by boys in maker programs, LEGO clubs, and robotics teams. The goal of these programs is to provide access to learning opportunities that introduce and strengthen Computational Thinking (CT) skills and computer science knowledge, yet a significant number of kids are still missing from the picture. Populations of kids still think these programs, and the associated skills, are for others. How much do we really talk with kids and teens, including girls, about the important role computer science now plays in business, government, and our/their personal lives, beyond “screen time?”

Makers2Mentors, our Libraries Ready to Code project, aimed to change that. What if kids and teens in our community had new opportunities to become comfortable not just using digital media on a superficial level, but digging deeper to understand how computers work and using digital tools to express themselves and make their voices heard?

Girls learn the basics of 3D design with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Over time I have connected the idea of learning how to code to learning how a book works. If we teach young children the fundamental concepts that will later fuel them as readers and writers, which we do in storytime and in other experiences, why can’t we prepare kids and teens to control digital information, creating and manipulating the medium, just as authors and creators have done with paper formats?

One of the goals we set for the Makers2Mentors project was to provide CT and CS learning experiences specifically for girls. We want more girls to learn CT and CS skills, and be prepared to think critically about information in all its forms, so we wanted to encourage their participating in all of the M2M programs. I also recognized that I needed to reach out to girls in targeted ways. In some cases, this meant integrating CS and CT into traditional library programs like storytime to reach girls before extreme gender stereotypes about STEM get a foot hold. I also led a coding program for girls and their moms (or grandmothers, aunts, grown-up female friends), partnered with the local Girl Scouts to provide a girl scout overnight for area troops featuring robotics and CT activities, and hosted a camp for girls, led by visiting CS college students, that introduced girls to new skills as they explored computer hardware and software.

Reaching underrepresented populations requires creativity and doing things differently. Obviously, if a group isn’t coming to the current programs or using the library space now, something needs to change. New partnerships, unique program designs and flexibility are essential. Sometimes opportunities to provide learning experiences come in unexpected ways.

Girls and their families are excited about making a space for girls’ voices in the digital world, even those from a faraway place like Homer, Alaska.

Teen mentors are recognized for their service and interest during the reading of the 2018 National Library Week proclamation at a City Council meeting.

Key to the success of many of the M2M programs was the empowerment of teen mentors who helped fill leadership gaps often found in small communities like mine. Many of these mentors were girls, and in fact, several of the girls who acted as mentors became interested in learning about CT/CS as they mentored. They got involved not because of their tech experience, but because they like mentoring. So, I capitalized on their valuable leadership skills and ended up providing CT/CS training sessions that became ‘programs’ in and of themselves. They learned about CT and CS and helped other girls (and boys) gain new skills also. Over the course of the year long grant period, more girls were interested in both the girl specific programs and general events.

Here are some images highlighting girls in the library’s M2M programs.

Girls make cardboard automata at an afterschool Maker Club.
A girl programs Ozobots with markers at a Maker Club session.
Two girls, with their moms, make the robot Dash move during a coding program. (Ages 8-12)
Girls and moms work in teams to program Dash & Dot robots.
Young girls, and a teen mentor, learn coding basics with Dash and Dot at the Girl Scouts overnight held last winter. (ages 5-11)
A teen mentor preps materials for a LEGO Lab featuring LEGO WeDo.
Girls Get IT! camp was a little fun…

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