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Lessons Learned from Girls Code Club

I’m not deep enough into this coding adventure to have carved out a niche in any one particular area, but somehow that doesn’t stop my interests from building on each other and relating to each other in beautiful ways. Over the last year my previous career as a therapist and advocate for women collided with my current pursuit as a programmer and continued advocacy for women while volunteering for various women/girls in technology programs: TechGyrls, Girls Code Club, CoderDojo and mentoring at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.

While I was working for TechGyrls at the YWCA in Lancaster, I started developing coursework to teach young girls how to code. Serendipitously two local women, Elyse Ewing and Emily Landis, had already set out to create a Girls Code Club program at the Lancaster Science Factory. Excited that such a program exists locally, I quickly contacted Emily and offered to volunteer.

September of 2016 registration opened for Girls Code Club and we received 83 applications for 25 spots. The program extended to include 50 girls in 2 sessions. The sessions would meet once a month for 9 months and end in a 1 week summer camp. During each session the girls were presented with lessons in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

During our first session we got feedback from the girls about what they wanted to build over the next 9 months. The girls chose to build websites and gear the sites to their own interests. We instructed them all to open accounts on codepen.io, and showed them how to create a basic layout with HTML and manipulate variables in CSS to change the appearance of several examples. The personalities of each of the girls truly shined the day we showed them how to embed photos and videos into their sites. Let’s just say it’s easy to get a girl excited about building her own website if she knows how to embed cute cat videos.

Over the next 8 months, we continued to guide the girls through an introduction to HTML, CSS and Javascript. Each lesson building on the last to aid the girls in creating truly dynamic websites. We also taught them three essential skills all coders should know: how to borrow, imitate and search google for answers to common problems.

I believe the girls came away from Girls Code Club with a vital skill. They had learned how to teach themselves to code by imitating and experimenting. They will be able to access their “pens” (practice websites) from any computer with an internet connection, and they can continue the same process at home.

The girls inspired me with how fearlessly they jumped in and started tackling subject matter I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Many girls expressed the desire to continue learning at home between sessions and to keep tinkering with their codepens (websites). One young lady started teaching herself Ruby at home using Codeacademy. My favorite part of each session was the last 15 minutes when the girls would volunteer to show the rest of the group what they built: taco cats and donuts, and SpongeBob SquarePants memes, oh my!

In summary, here are some of the lessons I learned from Girls Code Club:

  • Girls are interested in technology. It just needs to be presented in a way that connects with them.
  • Give girls a safe environment to be curious and fail and they will create amazing things.
  • Teaching students the skills to research, problem solve, and manage frustration(aka, how to take deep breathes while searching for a missing semicolon), is more important than teaching them how to code.
  • Seeing a room full of girls tinkering with projects they built themselves was extremely inspiring. It made me even more motivated to expose more beginners to the amazing world of creating-not just consuming-technology and the web.

Every girl deserves to take part in creating the technology that will change our world and change who runs it. ~Malala Yousefzai

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