On Monday afternoons starting at 3pm sharp, six girls gather at Charlotte Central School to learn a skill that they’ll be able to carry into high school, grad school, and future careers. A new club, Girls Who Code, formed in November to help these middle-school girls learn to code.
Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit whose goal is to eliminate the existing gender gap in technology, according to their website. Despite numerous jobs in these fields, women will likely fill only 3% of these positions. In addition to clubs like the one at CCS, the organization also provides a summer immersion program for high school girls.
Jason Stockwell of Charlotte is a UVM ecology professor with some background in coding, and when he heard a story on the radio about Girls Who Code, it piqued his interest. Stockwell’s sixth-grade daughter is a student at CCS, and “we’ve always tried to be very positive about the sciences with her,” he noted.
Stockwell, who together with fellow dad Chris Patton formed the club, noted the importance of highlighting the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) for young girls. Stockwell pointed out the statistics on the organization’s website regarding the gender gap in technology: 66% of girls six to 12 are interested in computer science, but from ages 13-17, this drops to only 32%. By their freshman year of college, it’s 4%.
There are many benefits in learning to code, Stockwell observed. From jobs in tech to retail, “coding is everywhere in our lives,” he said. A background in coding is thus a very marketable skill. And math and engineering skills are also built in when learning to code.
“There’s always ways for programming to be part of a job,” Stockwell noted. “Web design is programming, and that’s a huge industry right now,” he said, adding, “these students are going to be learning, either through our program or through other programs at school, how to build a website.”
The girls in the club learn not just a programming language like Python, but also the generalities and principles of coding that will allow them to expand into other computer languages in the future. Because precise language is required in coding, careful planning and structured thinking are essential tools. And the girls are learning how identify a problem; to design, build, and test solutions; and to reassess their approach.
“To build something, you have to plan it,” said Stockwell. “I think it also provides a framework for logical thinking.”
The girls are currently in the process of selecting an issue or problem within CCS that they can address via coding, and have explored topics in both music and sports as potential project areas. With many interests among the girls in the club, compromise is important in selecting and moving forward on the club’s project for the year. At this Monday’s meeting, the girls had a visit from CSWD Board Member Abby Foulk, who discussed issues of waste disposal at the school, such as composting and recycling. The girls are exploring a project to help and encourage their fellow students to dispose of waste properly at the school.
Sitting around a table with laptops in front of them, the club’s members volunteered similar reasons for joining: Caroline wanted to learn to code, while Sylvie and Hadley know how to code but wanted to learn more. Said Ella, “I wanted to be with other girls who have similar interests to me.”
The club starts each meeting with a discussion of a successful woman in tech, providing club members with female role models in the field. In the future, said Stockwell, perhaps his UVM students, particularly women, will come to meetings to share with the girls how they use computer modeling in their own research.
Girls from other towns would be welcome to join, said Stockwell. “We’re hoping it’s fun for the girls who are in there now, and we’re hoping it generates interest for more girls.”
Girls Who Code meets at Charlotte Central School on Mondays from 3 to 5pm, and is open to girls in sixth through eighth grades. For more information, email Jason Stockwell (Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org) or Chris Patton (email@example.com), and check out www.girlswhocode.com. The club is free and will meet through late spring.