Just after I brought up my slide deck, the room exploded with squeals of laughter from Girl Scout Troop 45. I know my audience (elementary school girls), so it was no coincidence that the first slide of my talk was two internet-famous memes of cats typing furiously on computer keyboards. It worked brilliantly, but I was prepared for anything. If cat memes alone didn’t convey how much fun coding can be, I was fully prepared with a bag of robots for “show-and-tell.”
I was invited to speak to Girl Scout Troop 45 by troop leader, Kelly McMahon Willette. Apparently, Hour of Code had been so popular the previous year that Saint Patrick Catholic School had started a coding club and “the girls were energized learning how to code.” This year, Mrs. McMahon Willette also wanted a couple of women programmers to come to the classroom and talk to the Girl Scouts about what we do and why learning to code is so important.
Nikki Kilgore, a web developer for Optima Health, and I each presented to our audience of Girl Scouts. As a front-end developer, Nikki was able to show the girls how she uses coding and creativity to create web pages and applications like the ones the scouts use every day. During my presentation, I showed the Girl Scouts how their Hour of Code tutorials and lesson plans could transition from controlling things on a screen to controlling actual robots. I passed around a few quadcopters and smart devices, giving the girls an opportunity to interact with these amazing technologies.
The Hour of Code program was originally designed by Computer Science Education Week and the non-profit Code.org as a way to “demystify code.” By making programming approachable and fun, they wanted to demonstrate that someone did not need to be a computer scientist, or even an adult, to learn to write code. Hour of Code now happens each year, in early December, during Computer Science Education Week (with the date selected based on proximity to Admiral Grace Hopper’s birthday). Since its creation, Hour of Code has become a worldwide celebration that begins with an hour of coding and then expands to bigger and more challenging community events.
In the few years since Hour of Code first began, the list of applications and games has grown to more than 200 tutorials and lesson plans. The coding exercises themselves are very accessible - while some require a computer with internet connection, most can be completed offline on a tablet. The applications are also ranked by age and experience level, which makes the program approachable for most children and adults.
After our presentations, Nikki and I remained in the classroom and assisted the girls with their coding exercises. Saint Patrick Catholic School provided iPads to the girls that were preloaded with many of the Hour of Code applications - they could work on tutorials alone, but they were encouraged to pair with a friend and work through challenges together. I’m familiar with the Scratch program from MIT and other block-based coding applications (like ETA’s New da Vinci program), but I was surprised and impressed at some of the newer Hour of Code games that emphasized critical thinking skills and creativity rather than an “end product.” Every Girl Scout in the classroom could find something interesting and challenging that inspired them to continue learning to program.
This fall, I attended a Women in Tech Summit in Norfolk, Virginia to see a keynote and panel discussion with Karen Jackson, Secretary of Technology for Virginia. I had a great opportunity to speak with her after the meeting to discuss my passion for teaching girls about technology and engineering. After our chat, she gave me a huge bag of “STEM Rocks” friendship bracelets for the girls in my classes. Fortunately, I still had many of these bracelets to share with Girl Scout Troop 45 so they had a trinket to wear and take home. Some of the girls were so excited about the program that they asked for extra bracelets, so that they could share them with their friends.
Kelly McMahon Willette was able to get some great photos of the girls showing off their bracelets so we could send a proper “thank you” to Karen Jackson and she sent a message back that I was able to pass along to the girl scouts.
I’m looking forward to continue partnering with Girl Scout Troop 45 and Saint Patrick’s Catholic school for future STEM events. The annual Hour of Code events are perfect for introducing kids to coding. But after that week is over, it’s up to facilitators, educators, and technology professionals to keep the momentum going and to push the students to the next level.
Our girl scout troop, consisting of girls in grades 1-8, greatly benefitted from the Hour of Code instruction and presentation by Ms. Nichols. She presented them with engaging and relatable slides to excite them about coding, then she stayed and assisted our girls as they embarked on coding [exercises] on their own. I hope to continue this relationship with Ms. Nichols and our Girl Scout Troop... we need more women in STEM, and it is positive enthusiastic women in the industry like Ms. Nichols who will certainly inspire these young girls to pursue STEM careers and education. THANK YOU so much on behalf of our scouts in Girl Scout Troop 45.Kelly McMahon Willette