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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Why our girls need to code

Hi all,

Alessia D'Urso via Flickr - Used with permission
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Foundations of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando Florida. The conference includes technology integrators, teachers and teacher leaders from all over North America and is one of the premiere technology integration conferences in North America.
While at this conference I had the great pleasure of attending a keynote by Reshma Suanji, former Deputy Public Advocate for New York City, Candidate for the United States Congress and founder of the advocacy group “Girls who Code”. (http://girlswhocode.com) During this powerful presentation, Reshma shared some startling statistics regarding economic shifts that could have immediate impact on our students.
  • In 2008 there were 8 million manufacturing jobs lost in the USA
  • Higher wage work grew in that same span of time
  • Today, Computer software engineers are the fastest growing industry for employment with Computer Science close behind.
  • The gender gap in computer sciences is growing.
    • In 1984, 37% of students graduating computer science programs were women - today that ratio is closer to 18%
    • Although women make up almost half of the US workforce, only 25% of the jobs in technical or computing fields are held by females.
  • It has been predicted that by 2020, 1.4 million computer specialists will be needed in the USA with only enough graduates to fill 29% of them.
  • Technical jobs are no longer specific to technical industries. Most industries need staff skilled in computer sciences.

These statistics have significant implications for us as public educators.  If software engineering and computer sciences are indeed the fastest growing industries, shouldn’t we at the very least expose all students - and in particular girls - to these areas? How do these knowledge, skills and attitudes fit within the larger scope of Numeracy? How do we achieve such a goal when few teachers are trained or have a background in the computer sciences?  

The good news is that it doesn’t take a computer scientist to engage our students and employ these skills in the classroom.  Here are just a few examples of ways that you can expose students to these ideas in an accessible and engaging way:
  • Reshma pointed at the importance of having female role models for our girls. She began Girls Who Code for precisely this purpose.  You can visit her site (http://girlswhocode.com/clubs) for a toolkit on how you can build your own Girls Who Code club.  There are other local organizations such as the University of Calgary’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) http://people.ucalgary.ca/~womense/ that provide mentorship opportunities as well.
  • Employ programmatic as part of the larger concept of Numeracy. For example in Social Studies and Science students can use formulas and pattern rules to analyze trend data with Microsoft Excel
  • Some of the self directed coding tools provide opportunities, tutorials and ideas to have students build video games to demonstrate their understanding of concepts.
    • Minecraft Hour of Code Site: https://code.org/mc
      • This is a great place to start for beginners. Uses simple, draggable code blocks to make a Minecraft character move and interact with his or her environment. Appropriate for division II/III kids. Includes complete tutorials so no prior skill is required. Check out the huge number of resources on their site: https://code.org including similar environments based on StarWars, Frozen, Angry Birds and more!
      • Create interactive games by moving simple blocks around the screen.  Easy to learn and employs a large variety of coding concepts. Appropriate for Division II/III students.
    • Robotics kits from the IMC
      • Use anything from remote control apps to block based coding tools like Scratch or Code.org. Appropriate for Div I to III.
    • Raspberry Pi available at the IMC
      • Build your own computer and use it to power circuits of your design.  Uses Scratch as it’s programming environment. Great for Div III or IV students.

These coding environments build skills in patterning, visualization, reasoning cartesian systems and more, moreover they are really engaging for students. And, the skills that students employ in these environments translate directly to the text based programming languages they would use in university and industry.  

“We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” -Daniel Pink