What Happens When Girls Try Coding in an All-Female Space
There are 59 students in the three high school computer science classes Jenni Rountree teaches.
Only two of them are girls.
Rountree’s classroom makeup is an uncomfortable confirmation of what we already know: Most girls lose interest in STEM fields by seventh grade. “The ones that come in there have pre-set ideas about what [this field] can be like,” she told AAUW in an interview. The girls only realize how fun and creative computer science can be once they’ve had a chance to try it.
Girls at AAUW’s Tech Trek camp in Huntsville, Alabama, had that very opportunity thanks to an $84,000 grant from the Verizon. The grant enabled AAUW to pilot an MIT-developed apps course that showed campers the basics of how to build apps and how they are used on mobile phones and tablets.
Rountree was one of three teachers to pilot the class at the camp, where the all-female environment helped campers feel confident trying out their new app-building skills. “In my regular classes, I find that the girls tend to be a little less sure of themselves or not as open to explore things and ask questions, but [the campers] were very willing to do that,” Rountree said. “Self-esteem didn’t seem to be an issue. They were willing to try new things and make mistakes.”
According to Rountree, Tech Trek campers went above and beyond the class requirements. “I had several who found tutorials to go out and make apps on their own. They would ask me questions, I would say, ‘I don’t know,’ and they would experiment and figure it out.”
Girls can apply the coding skills they learned at Tech Trek to almost any career field that interests them, from fashion design and animation to robotics and video games. But the camp went beyond just developing coding skills. Campers also learned about the engineering design process, the value of experimenting and making mistakes, and the importance of trying again if you don’t succeed the first time.
Rountree told us these skills are the reason it’s so important that MIT created this curriculum and that the Verizon Foundation brought it to programs like Tech Trek. She encourages girls to continue experimenting with App Inventor and thinking about how apps can help them in their communities.
Women are a small portion of professional app builders and designers, but once you know how to code, Rountree said, “You can do anything.”
What can you, as a parent or sister or scout leader or anyone, do to introduce the girl in your life to engineering? We have some ideas.
AAUW’s upcoming research report will feature the latest data on girls’ achievement in subjects related to engineering and computing, how few women are working in these fields, and what can be done.
Pursuing solutions grows more imperative every day.