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Mentoring Middle School and High School Girls in Programming

Kim Wilkens and Nancy Bordelon

 

Mentoring has proven to be very useful in career development especially with Technical Women. Mentorships tremendously help women that are interested in technical fields gain access to both technical and management positions. These low numbers are rising due to mentorships at young ages. Our Systers community provides an unofficial opportunity for women in computing to mentor other women around the world through sharing their own experiences and career paths. In a recent discussion, a Syster, Keri Laughter asked for advice on teaching/mentoring middle school and high school girls on programming. The discussion started with great advice on specific tools for learning to program, to more mentoring opportunities and how mentorship would benefit young girls when you start early.

“I am an undergrad student with one year left to go. The university I attend offers a concurrent BS/MS degree, which I am in the process of applying for. For my Master’s thesis I want to start a community program where myself, several other students, and faculty (if I can gain the interest) would teach computer programming to middle and high school age children in our area. I have a professor that is very interested in doing this with me. Her suggestion for getting started was to look up all the information I can on other programs that have been started in other places, learning what worked, what didn’t work, and what they might do differently if given the chance. This information will be used to put together a teaching plan.

I feel that this is a big deal for the area I’m in because a program like this does not already exist here, from what I can tell. A couple of the local high schools have a programming class, and they all have classes on computer basics, but not all students in the area are getting exposed to programming, what it is about and how fun it can be.

I have found a lot of information on the importance of getting children interested early on, including the book “Unlocking the Clubhouse”, which was my inspiration for wanting to do this. One resource I am already looking into is the CS Unplugged website csunplugged.org/activities. The activities here are fun and get students out from behind the computer. I am still early on in my search for more information though, so I’m not sure if I’m asking prematurely, but I was wondering if any of you might have suggestions, ideas, or information about other similar programs? If any of you have done or are doing something similar, do you have any advice about this type of endeavor? Any help would be greatly appreciated!” – Keri Laughter

RESOURCES

I thought that this discussion contained such a valuable wealth of information on how to get started mentoring in your local area. It definitely motivated me to start looking into volunteer opportunities in my local area. I’m a software developer and if I would have had a mentor in middle or high school, my dream of being a software developer would have been pursued much earlier than I actually did. After spending twenty years in a career of teaching software, I was able to attend graduate school to pursue a software developer career. Articles like this are so inspiring. – Nancy Bordelon

“I’ve done many workshops, but these week-long or day-long courses I’ve designed and run are probably the most relevant to you:gailcarmichael.com/teaching/coursedesign.

The first item, Intro to Computers for Arts and Social Science, is actually a first year undergrad course, but I carried over many ideas from the other courses with good success.” – Gail Carmichael

“My friend Katie and I taught a Young Coder’s class at PyCon this past spring. We did two 1-day classes, one for a younger group (ages 10-13), and one for older kids (ages 14-18). We used essentially the same curriculum for each class – the biggest difference was that we got through it more quickly with the older group.

The materials we developed for the class are all open-sourced, so feel free to use anything that you think might be helpful:

github.com/mechanicalgirl/young-coders-tutorial
github.com/kcunning/Katie-s-Rougish-PyGame

We also both did write-ups about the experience:

www.mechanicalgirl.com/post/young-coders-learning-python-pycon-2013
therealkatie.net/blog/2013/mar/19/pycon-2013-young-coders” – Barbara Shaurette

cs.brown.edu/orgs/artemis/2013/index.html
This is a summer program for middle school girls run through my university. it’s run largely by undergrads, and seems very successful. I’m not sure how much information you can get directly through their website, but I’d try reaching out to the student coordinators and see what happens.

www.bootstrapworld.org
This is a middle school program one of our professors is fairly involved with. It’s taught in Racket, which is I think an interesting choice, since many CS people don’t get exposed to functional programming unless they’ve explicitly taken a programming languages class, but a lot of thought and care has been put into the curriculum design.

appinventor.mit.edu
This is a resource I personally have used for teaching an after school programming class. I find it isn’t ideal for teaching deep programming concepts, but it is a great first exposure to programming, because the students can make their first working android app within minutes. Also, the programming environment is free and online.” – Sasha Berkoff

“If you haven’t seen it, you might be interested in the TEALS program. Tech professionals volunteer part time to teach CS classes in schools:tealsk12.org.” – Andrea

“I’m a fan of Codecademy, so their After-School Programming popped into my head when I read this. Here is the information kit: http://www.codecademy.com/schools

Starting a community program is a wonderful idea — best of luck!” –Julia

EXPERIENCES

I appreciated the experiences shared by those who are mentoring through other programs or setting up their own. A recent study shows that local women in technology role models are hugely important to local girls interest in studying STEM subjects. So this is important stuff and learning from each other’s experience is invaluable. – Kim Wilkens

“1. I’m teaching kids from a very economically depressed part of an economically depressed city, so one thing I was concerned about was what kind of technology access my students would have in their day-to-day lives. I’ve found (somewhat to my surprise) that a *lot* of the kids have their own smartphones. I would say more of them have smartphones than have consistently working computers with internet connections at home. We have tester phones for them to use during class (smartphone ownership is not universal), but have found that the “computer at home” issue is actually a bigger barrier. It turns out that we couldn’t really expect them to work on their projects at home, despite intentionally choosing a free, web-based programming environment.

2.The members of my team in charge of initial outreach to attract student report that they were met with a lot of resistance from local high schools when they tried to reach out to the schools individually. Lesson: It is *very helpful* to hook up with a group, or at least a person, who already has established relationships with the local public schools. We started working with a nonprofit called the Providence After School Alliance, and immediately things started running more smoothly. That’s because they were an established nonprofit that employed former teachers and administrators from the district, and they had a long-standing and good relationship with the school system. Even if there’s no after school computer science being taught in your area, see what kind of after school stuff *is* happening, and try to integrate with that.” –Sasha Berkoff

“We have recently received a grant from NCWIT for the pilot Aspire IT program where our focus is on teaching middle school girls computer programming with an emphasis on social change. They have paired us with a previous Aspirations in Computing Award winner to lead the program so that it is “peer lead” and hopefully more appealing to the younger ladies since she is a freshman in college. NCWIT has provided a plethora of materials and goodies for the program and their website has a lot of resources to assist you with putting together a great program (www.ncwit.org/). You will also find that there are a variety of grants available through a wide variety of resources that support girls in STEM. It’s important to get girls involved when they are young!

Our summer camp starts this Saturday and we are extremely excited about it and hope that we will be able to provide this every summer to middle school girls in our area!” – Tracey M Lanham

“Over the past year and a half, I’ve volunteered with MAGIC (More Active Girls in Computing) as a remote mentor to a high school girl. It’s been a great experience and I’ve enjoyed sharing my love of computing with someone who is just starting down that path. If you’ve ever considered mentoring in this capacity, I highly recommend it!

MAGIC (More Active Girls In Computing) aims to increase the interest of middle and high school girls in STEM topics and STEM careers, by providing 1-1 mentoring to them for a period of 4-6 months. To date, MAGIC has provided 1-1 mentoring tomiddle and high school girls in four schools in the Bay Area, two schools in San Diego, and one school on the East Coast in Cambridge. As MAGIC enters its sixth year this fall, it is planning to expand to more schools both in CA and on the East Coast.

See MAGIC’s latest review by recent participants to get an idea of the impact you can have on the life and career of a middle or high school girl, at greatnonprofits.org/reviews/getmagic-corporation.

More about MAGIC can be found at www.getmagic.org.

We are looking for energetic women with careers in STEM who can serve as mentors in this program. I hope you are interested!” – Jaelle Scheuerman

“One other thing I forgot to mention here: A few weeks ago, I came across this blog post, basically decrying all the non-profit startups who are in business to teach kids outside of the public school system:www.geekymomblog.com/2013/05/15/dear-learn-to-code-startup/

I totally get her point – CS teachers in public schools need our support, to make get CS legislated as a requirement in schools, and most importantly, to make sure that the playing field is level and that classes are available not just to the kids who can afford the time and hardware resources.

So that got me thinking, and now one of the other things I’m doing is reaching out to local CS teachers. There’s an organization – Computer Science Teachers of America – that keeps a directory listing of regional chapters: csta.acm.org/About/sub/CSTAChapters.html

I reached out to my local chapter contact and got a very enthusiastic response. :) Now we’re talking about putting together after school workshops – not for students, but for teachers, to introduce them to new teaching tools and brainstorm on curriculum (and also to figure out other ways in which we can help).” – Barbara Shaurette

“I am one of those CSTA members and I am always glad to see people outreach. It is a chicken and the egg problem. We have to get administrators to see the value in the programs and get people to teach them.

I have been teaching programming at the high school level for 21 years and we don’t have even programs in our area, Dallas, TX.” – Kathleen Weaver

What do you induce from the conversation?

MORE RESOURCES

“It’s quite common to hear a room full of older techies talking about the need to get more girls interested in computers. But in Munich this week, it was a pair of 20-year-old college students who were urging older women to add coding to their repertoire. By doing so, the pair said, today’s working women can serve as role models and better mentor the next generation.”

“In order to secure initial gains made, women already active in the ICT sector need to take the time to engage with community initiatives to mentor girls and women and participate in virtual and face to face communities of practice.”