Today I (hopefully) inspired the next generation of computer scientists. ;)
Carleton University hosts Virtual Ventures summer camps each year, and within these camps, there are a couple of special opportunities for girls to participate in Girls@VV. Because one of the instructors is from CU-WISE, she asked if any of us would be interested in mentoring or even doing some fun activities with the girls
Well, how could I pass up?
I borrowed some material from my games mini-course for girls and put together a few slides about what computer science is and how women fit in. We had a discussion on why girls don't get into it, why that's a bad thing, and what would help. Then we did the finite state machine activity from CS Unplugged. Terri from CU-WISE also came out to help. What a blast we had!
As was the case for my mini-course, these girls had amazing insight into the reasons girls aren't very interested. The title of this post represents a major theme: they want to learn about what computer science really is early on in their school lives!
Students who have access to computers at school, it seems, learn how to use them, but nothing beyond that. They don't learn how to make HTML pages or make games with Alice or Game Maker or anything deep at all. They just learn how to find info for and write up projects and that sort of thing.
Some of the girls said that the growing populations at their schools caused the computer labs to be taken over as regular classrooms. Then, the only computers left were for the teacher to use in the classrooms. So not everyone even gets a chance to use computers at school in their younger years.
Another common suggestion was to have after-school programs. They reasoned that you can do sports, which won't help most people in their future careers, but not computers or electronics. They said they would love a club like that, and think their friends would go, too. They want teachers who are more knowledgeable in the topic (rather than the unfortunate souls who get assigned to teach computers simply because there's nobody else), and role models to show girls that computer science can be fun, exciting, and cool. (For instance, they loved the videos I showed them from the Why Choose CSE collection over at the University of Washington.) Finally, they want to know more about how computer science can be connected to the things they already enjoy doing.
There are many camps and programs being run that are supposed to address exactly these ideas given to us today, and yet we still hear that the girls are left wanting. Are the programs not far enough reaching? Are the activities not engaging enough? (I can tell you our CS Unplugged activity sure was!) What's going on?