Coding club exposes girls to math, science and tech fields
The Real Girls Code Club at Ingram-Pye Elementary and Wesleyan College’s Girls Who Code club are teaching female students about computer programming.
The two Macon programs, one for third- through fifth-graders and the other for high schoolers, aim to pique and keep girls’ interests in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as close the gender gap in those fields today.
Over the next decade, an estimated 1.4 million computer-related jobs are expected to be created in the United States, the U.S. Labor Department reports. Now, women make up only 24 percent of computer scientists in the field, according to Girls Who Code.
Girls’ interest in computer science drops substantially as they get older, from 66 percent of girls ages 6-12 showing interest to 32 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds to only 4 percent of college freshmen.
Young girls often don’t get the same reinforcement about pursuing STEM fields as boys do, said Randy Heaton, a math professor at Wesleyan and leader of the school’s Girls Who Code chapter. The local clubs are trying to make up for that.
“If a young girl is left with the impression that tinkering is a boy’s thing, that can really inhibit them from doing something they find enjoyable,” he said.
Real Girls Code Club
The club’s first five-week session kicked off in September, and the second will wrap up Nov. 15. Twenty girls in grades three through five have participated in each session, with some opting to do both. The program is offered through grant funding from Google and Krystal.
“They’re learning the language of code to tell the computer what to do,” West said. “They find their niche, and they keep it and they go with it.
“They’re in the room with like-minded girls. They’re not in competition.”
The meetings, from 3:30-5 p.m. Wednesdays at the school, take students from beginner to advanced coding skills. They gain problem-solving, socialization and team skills and see that learning is fun, said Ingram-Pye counselor Tanisha Jefferson. The girls write journal entries at the end of each meeting.
“For them to be exposed to the fields of science and technology, it opens up their minds as to what future careers are available to them,” Jefferson said. “It’s a positive experience for them and their parents.”
Grace Maloney, a Mercer University sophomore and STEM intern with the Real IMPACT center, is the instructor for the club. On Nov. 1, students worked through games themed around zombies, “Star Wars” and gardens on their laptops, using codes to take characters through mazes and scenarios.
“They’re fearless, and they’re ready for the challenge,” West said. “If we embrace this about these girls, they can do anything.”
Principal Danielle Howard said the students catch on quickly and mentor the girls who are new to coding. The club serves as an incentive and inspiration for them to be at school, and they always say they don’t want it to end.
“It’s just for them. It’s just a little bit of attention and a little bit of empowerment for girls. This is just the beginning,” Howard said.
Real IMPACT is working to secure additional funding that would allow the Real Girls Code Club to continue in January, West said.
Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code is a national organization with chapters in every state, and Wesleyan College’s club is one of five in Georgia. This is the school’s third semester offering the free program, which meets 1-3 p.m. Saturdays in Wesleyan’s library.
“(Starting the club) was just a no-brainer because Wesleyan College’s role in the community is to empower young women,” Heaton said. “Girls Who Code is doing something that’s in the same scope and mission.”
The club is open to ninth- through 12th-grade girls in private, public or home schools, although a few seventh- and eighth-graders have attended. An average eight students participate in the meetings, and members of Wesleyan’s Math Club provide assistance.
The national organization provides the curriculum, and Heaton adapts the day’s activities according to the students’ coding knowledge and interests. Each meeting includes an icebreaker and time to spotlight a woman in technology.
The group comes up with a project to tackle every semester. Last year, they created a price comparison app.
“The level of sophistication to the way they solve problems, the level of autonomy when they start trying to attack the problem, it’s pretty incredible,” Heaton said of club members’ progress. “It’s pretty obvious that when they go to college and take a programming class they’ll be ahead of the game.”
Want to find out more about Real IMPACT Center?
Want to join Girls Who Code?
Who: Girls in grades nine through 12.
Where: Wesleyan College’s library.
When: The club meets 1-3 p.m. Saturdays this semester. The kickoff date and meeting time for the spring semester have not yet been determined. Students are welcome to attend meetings this semester or start in January.
Register: Contact Jill Amos at email@example.com or 478-757-3800 to attend.