Blog Post

How to Engage More K-8 Girls in Computer Science

I recently had the opportunity to interview a dear teacher friend, Velvet Holmes. She shared her computer science learning journey with me on my Tech Gems podcast show. Though we have been good friends for over 10 years, I didn’t know how and why she got started in CS. I learned that although Velvet minored in Math and Computer Science, she hated CS in college. Fortunately, she had one teacher that kept encouraging her and helping her through challenging projects.

Velvet persevered and is now in her 25th year of teaching. She currently serves as a technology integration educator and CS educator in her district. With an understanding of the importance of why girls need female role models and mentors in their lives, Velvet and her teacher teammate Mariah created “Coding Through Equity,” a girls coding club at their school. The “Coding Through Equity” club has become so popular that they now offer it at different grade levels and it is open to boys.

Velvet was eager to share with me her professional insights and best practices for how to engage K-8 girls to get them interested and excited in real-world CS activities. Velvet introduces her students to Lightbot, an online simulation-to-learning game. She notes it affords students self-directed learning opportunities to create and make their own challenge mazes. She also incorporates Ozobots, Dash robots, and many other hands-on robotics that make coding come to life. She mentioned several unplugged activities that are provided through Code.org like graph paper coding that encourages students to take the time to process, design, think critically and persevere through a problem.

All of these activities are examples of how to build STEM confidence in girls with hands-on learning experiences through collaborative group and student choice and voice learning. Velvet makes sure that all the girls work side-by-side with female role models or mentors during these activities and her “Coding Through Equity” celebration parties.

It is understood that the primary reason for why girls lose interest in STEM by middle school is the lack of women role models and mentors in their lives. A second reason, according to Microsoft-supported research, is girls and young women do not have appropriate access to learning experiences and the resources/materials needed to build confidence to persevere through failures that will ultimately level the CS and STEM playing field.

Here is a collection of my top 10 favorite activities that provide girls with hands-on CS learning experiences.

  1. Play the Mentor Hats card game.
  2. Have students design their own Passion to Purpose dream. 
  3. Play Luana Games’ Women In Science: The Video Game or print and play the DIY kit (pdf). 
  4. Engage your entire class in creative conversation based on this infographic I created and have students design their own in Canva, Piktocharts or Google Drawings.
  5. Have students design their own board or card games based on a female role model they admire in their local communities.
  6. Introduce students to vision or dream boards and have students design their STEM vision of their future selves, and what change they will contribute to make the world a better place for others.
  7. Invite students to participate as a team in Career Village, and ask a woman-in-leadership expert questions about future CS career pathways.
  8. Explore through self-directed choice the SciGirls website of young women and female role models and mentors to learn from.
  9. Write a letter to your future self focused on your CS and STEM goals and passions. 1
  10. Request a Woman Scientist through Skype a Scientist. Students can ask questions of the scientist to build their knowledge and understand and empathize with the struggles, challenges and accomplishments this leader has endured.

Interested in starting a girls coding club at your school? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Also, please check out my new coding club tutorial here at the CS for All Teachers YouTube channel!

 

Naomi Harm is a National K-12 STEM educator and women-in-leadership specialist. In her role, Naomi teaches educators beginner and intermediate courses on the why for CS and CT in grades K-8 utilizing Code.org, CSTA, Intel Education, ISTE, Google CS First, and Lego Education curriculum frameworks.