Family Connection: Code like a Girl

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Here’s a fact about me that not many people know: my father is British. Yep, with the accent and everything.

He grew up in Radcliffe-on-Trent, a large village in the Rushcliffe borough of Nottinghamshire (my Nan still lives there, in the same house!). He left his family and his home and immigrated to America in his late twenties for the educational opportunity to study electrical engineering. As an engineer, he worked with computers and technology all day long – and he brought that home to his family.

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Dad and his three girls. Can you tell which one is me?

Our house was never without a computer. And although we had limited screen time and a healthy balance of activities, my sisters and I were encouraged to use the machine for traditionally un-ladylike activities like chatting, programming, and gaming (I bet I can still capture the flag in the traditional PC Counter Strike game like a boss). Because of this, we each gained a comfort and skill level with technology that not all girls our age were lucky enough to acquire. We’re fast typists, intuitive tech learners, and have an all-around tech savviness that has helped us in so many ways. My oldest sister even earned multiple degrees in Information Systems and has worked for years for companies like IBM and Adobe.

This isn’t a coincidence. I was lucky enough to have a support system that encouraged my curiosity, told me that I could do anything, and gave me the tools to learn. My mom was great with computers, built her own website, and sends me videos all the time on her iPad (seriously, her fiends are all jealous of her tech savviness). My dad never said, “You want to play video games? But you’re a girl.” They raised my sisters and I to believe that nothing was out of our reach. I was so fortunate to have this kind of influence in my life, and I recognize that not all girls are lucky in that same way.

I want to be that kind of influence for our girls. And I want you to be, too.

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Makin’ dad proud – you can buy my “I CODE LIKE A GIRL” t-shirt for your favorite lady coder on Amazon.

I don’t mean to leave boys in the dust here – they, of course, should be encouraged to work hard and go for their dreams, too. But statstics show that girls, despite an interest in tech and engineering, are getting lost along the way. According to GirlsWhoCode.com, “in middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science.” (GirlsWhoCode.com) And unfortunately, once they lose that interest, many females never get back on the path to a career that involves tech – the website goes on to state that “While 57% of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, just 12% of computer science degrees are awarded to women.” The biggest problem with these statistics? The need for at least a basic knowledge of STEM and technology is no longer limited to just STEM related careers – now, these skills are necessary for jobs in agriculture, medicine, entertainment, design, retail… you name it. As we move towards becoming a more technology-focused society, these skills are no longer optional. Home Ec classes are being replaced with programming courses; schools are sacrificing cursive to teach keyboarding skills. You can’t opt out of learning to use technology – and girls need to speak that language, too.

Why do girls lose interest in computers, technology, and STEM? A recent article by Business Insider titled These Are the 7 Things Keeping Women out of Science Careers lists teasing in school, a lack of encouragement, stereotypes, and bias as some of the top reasons (read more of that interesting article here). It’s my priority to make sure that stereotypes, lack of encouragement, and bias have no place in my classroom – but our girls need more than that.

The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings. Yet U.S. universities are expected produce only enough qualified graduates to fill 29% of these jobs.

I don’t know about you, but I want my Leopards confident, capable, and ready to fill those jobs.

This month, the Learning Leopard Library is hosting a Hack-A-Thon to get all of our students excited about computer programming and all of the doors that this STEM experience can open for them. Don’t be thrown by the negative connotation of the word “hack” – in our context, the term just means to learn, play, and explore software and programming using a computer. I’ll talk more about our Hack-a-Thon in an upcoming post, but today I want to share some additional resources to help girls feel at home in the unfamiliar world of technology and programming. All third and fourth grade students will learn the basics of coding (and for fourth grade, get a brief introduction to Scratch), and will leave for winter break with a list of resources to keep programming, coding, and creating at home. But if you have a girl that you think might need some extra encouragement, please help them to access the resources below. Digital resources can be reached on any device with internet access, and Other Resources provide opportunities for invaluable in-person support, encouragement, and peer relationship building.

Throw like a girl.” “Play like a girl.” These phrases used to be used as insults, to call someone weak, unskilled, or lacking effort. That definiton is changing, and we have the chance to be a part of it. To me, “Code like a girl” means overcoming obstacles and defying stereotypes. It means forgetting what’s expected of you and going for so much more. Together, we can create a world that emboldens young girls to reach for the stars.

Digital Resources:

  • Above I shared some statistics from the website GirlsWhoCode, an excellent online resource
  • Girls Develop It – this international organization even has a local Central Virginia chapter!
  • Black Girls Code – an incredible program specifically designed to inspire African American girls to log on and participate
  • Code_Ed – when girls reach middle school, these online resources can help them continue with their coding education

Other Resources:

  • Geek Girl Camp – Conferences and meet ups featuring women all over the country that are passionate about technology
  • Shine for Girls – a program that uses dance and physical movement to help break down barriers and change girls’ perspectives about math and science
  • Girls Geek Day – this LOCAL event is happening on December 12th at Stone Robinson Elementary School, and it’s not too late to register! “Girls’ Geek Days are all about sparking girls’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) by providing a fun, collaborative, hands-on environment to learn new tech skills and helping girls and their parents connect to other STEM programs in the community. This event is open to all ages, but if you are a 3rd grader or younger, please plan on bringing one of your parents too.”

Have a boy that you’d like to encourage? Don’t worry, we have resources for that too! 

  • Code.org – a brilliant and beautifully designed resource including games, instructional videos, and everything your child could need to learn the basics while having a blast. This is what we use to introduce students to coding in the library.
  • Google CS First – Google resources for computer programming and coding.
  • If you’ve got a learner who really wants to go for it, get them started with Scratch. More difficult and involved than the Blockly coding from Code.org, Scratch let students get more involved and program with more freedom, developing skills as they work. Users can create their own games and share them, and then play other games created by students like them around the world!

Stay tuned for updates on our 2015 Hack-a-Thon!

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