Thursday, November 5, 2009

Girls in CS

I'm not sure why I haven't written about this before, because it is definitely relevant to this research.

The summers after my senior year in high school and after my freshman year in college, I taught at a technology summer camp called iDTech. I taught a week long programming course in Java to high school / middle school aged students. There were other tech classes taught at the camp like 2D and 3D game development, web development and flash animation, video editing shooting and editing, among many others which varied at camp locations (we didn't have LEGO robotics at Brown, but they did at MIT, for example).

And one of the things that I found was that the percentages of girls who attended these camps was astonishingly low! Some weeks would have maybe 2 girls out of 30 kids. There were weeks when we had more girls, but I don't think that we ever had more than 7 out 30. Often times we had little girls (7-10 year olds) who were too young for the programming class, but who took the web development or 2D game creation class. A lot of girls also took the video editing class. I can't quite recall the exact numbers, but I don't think I ever had more than 2 out of 8 girls in my programming class per week. Often times there was one or no girls in my class.

I guess I never stopped to think about how young kids are when this problem starts. It's not like girls and boys are equally represented at tech camps or in learning to program at a young age, and then girls get turned off to it. It's that girls are never getting introduced to this stuff. Many of my guy friends at CMU in CS started programming when they were 7 or 8. I had used computers and could help my grandmother set up her printer, but it wasn't until high school that I learned how to program. I think that graphing / programmable calculators are one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned how to program basic stuff like the quadratic equation or a program to generate the Fibonacci numbers, but I didn't learn how to do anything with more algorithmic complexity or more applied until I joined the Robotics team and learned C.

One of the things that's being done by Women@SCS is holding TechNights for Girls which introduces middle school girls to a series of tech related topics in weekly sessions. They might learn how to make a web page or program LEGO robots or use Photoshop.

I found a few other similar programs, but had never heard of most of them. Microsoft runs one called DigiGirlz. I found the iDTech page about girls and technology and encourages girls to come to camp, though similar to a page I found about the Navy a few weeks ago, seems to target what they think girls will like.

While we’re not strictly an all girls camp, girl camp, a summer camp for pre teen girls or a summer camp for teen girls, we DO offer a variety of courses that have curriculum tailored to what girls want to do. There’s nothing holding girls back from attending our summer camps. Whether you want to learn graphic design, filmmaking, 3D modeling, gaming, or even fashion design, iD has a course for you. iD Tech Camps is a great girl summer camps option!
- iDTech website

I found various other programs run at different college campuses aimed at getting middle school girls interested in technology, but I didn't find anything younger. Maybe we need to aim younger and target elementary school girls? While I think that it's great that there are a number of programs that aim to get middle school girls interested and engaged in technology, I think that if boys are learning to program at 7 or 8, girls need to doing the same thing.

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