Earlier this month my colleagues and I hosted our first young girls in technology workshop at a local school. It was a fun and rewarding experience with a serious intention to encourage more young girls to pursue computer science.
I don’t think I need to tell you that women and minorities are underrepresented in technology and STEM. Personally, I just need to look back at my college and university years where I was frequently the only female in the class. This feels particularly shocking because there is no non-speculative reason why. Girls display the same aptitude and enthusiasm towards STEM and technology at both primary and secondary schools but when it comes to selecting GCSEs, A-levels and even university degrees, their confidence in this career path begins to wane. Whether the reason for this is a lack of relatable role models in the industry, a perceived negative image of what a career in STEM entails or they simply don’t enjoy it, our goal was to show these young girls how great tech can be!
I want to share our experience and our content from the day with everyone in the hopes that these workshops will become easier to organise and implement in schools, so the next generation of technology and STEM graduates better represent our diverse society. So please please… steal our content, ideas and/or motivation and run your own workshop at a local school!
9.20 AM Presentation on Careers in Technology
This first session of the day was arguably the hardest. We had the difficult task of inspiring and relating to a large group of 12yo girls with a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation straight after their morning assembly. The presentation, aptly titled ‘Careers in Technology’, went better than we could have imagined with giggles, smiles and attention in all the right places.
The presentation began with my personal route into technology including my GCSE choices, my disastrous A-level results and my 4-year Computing degree that I loved. I wanted to be relatable and honest. We had slides on myths in technology (including the dreaded ‘You need to be amazing at maths’ statement), slides on why girls, women and minorities should have a voice in technology and finally a list of my favourite tech projects!
A short selection includes:
- Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Tonic and PhysGrid projects – https://www.technology.disneyanimation.com/
- The Sound Shirt – http://cutecircuit.com/soundshirt/
- The AI project that led to the discovery that dinosaurs run at the speed of a chicken (sorry Jurassic Park)
- The artificial pancreas – https://www.diabetes.org.uk/research/research-round-up/research-spotlight/research-spotlight-the-artificial-pancreas
9.50 AM Scratch Game Workshop
This included a 20min morning break for the girls (and a much needed cup of tea for us!).
This session came from our resident scratch expert Harry (@HarryMcLellan19). A couple of weeks before we visited the school, Harry took us through his session and we probably had as much fun as the students building our games. On the day, we built the games with the girls step-by-step using the drag and drop programming language explaining various programming concepts, such as variables and loops, as we went along.
Once the main functionality of the game was established, we allowed the class to add their own modifications and personality to their games and, without any further prompting from us, the girls did some incredible enhancements! There were game over animations, soundtracks, bonus rounds and one amazing 2 player version that I didn’t even know could be done. No two games were the same and they all swapped computers to test and discuss each other’s work and ideas.
12:00 PM Micro:Bit Workshop
Again, this includes a 1hr lunch break.
For this session, Microsoft generously lent us their Micro:Bits (https://microbit.org/code/) to take to the school. These were such great fun that I have actually bought a few for my younger relatives for Christmas. The Micro:Bits are tiny programmable mini computers, example gif below:
For the session, the girls worked in groups of 2-3 and tackled 3 mini projects which are all available as easy-to-follow tutorials on the website. We created electronic name tags, a rock-paper-scissors game and, using the built-in radio functionality, we showed the class how to send messages to one another’s Micro:Bits. This session with the Micro:Bits was a successful precursor to the next workshop.
1:40 PM Smart Device Workshop
At the very beginning of this session we introduced the girls to a variety of smart devices using PowerPoint. These ranged from useful and innovative such as the Aladin smart lamp with motion detection for the elderly, to the weird and ridiculous such as the IOT toaster, Toasteroid, and a smart umbrella that tells you the weather (which raises the question: if you have your umbrella up, wouldn’t you already know the weather?).
Then we challenged the girls, in their groups, to design and present their very own smart devices (with the promise of chocolatey prizes).
We all had great fun listening to the students enthusiastically presenting their smart devices. Many of them I would personally buy, including the ‘Pro-Grow’ IOT self-caring plant pot (for those of us forever forgetting their houseplants) and the ‘KAT’ kitchen assistant for students (with downloadable meal plans, automatically generated shopping lists and slow cooking capabilities). It was rewarding to see everyone get creative and passionate about smart devices and technology. The final presentation finished 1 minute before the end of the school day, so we quickly collected in the votes and feedback forms and awarded the winning team their chocolate prizes.
Despite uncovering a few things we know that we would now do differently (mainly allow more time for designing the smart devices and remembering to test that pesky Micro:Bit radio functionality better) the day was worthwhile and enjoyable. And it wasn’t just us who thought so! The feedback forms uncovered that 100% of the class enjoyed the day either ‘a great deal’ or ‘a lot’, 2/3 of the students couldn’t pick a least enjoyable part of the day and nearly 80% of the girls say they are now more likely to take Computer Science for GSCE.
One very interesting finding from the feedback forms was that not one single girl in the class selected the answer ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Before today, had you considered pursuing a career in technology?’ with 46% selecting ‘Maybe’ and 54% selecting ‘No’. However, we then asked the follow up question ‘Would you consider pursuing a career in Technology now?’ almost 60% changed their answer with the depressing statistic that 54% wouldn’t pursue a Technology career massively reduced to just 8%.
As you can see, workshops and events like these really make a difference by making technology and programming more accessible and showing young girls that they can enjoy and excel at a rewarding career in technology. By hosting your own workshop at a local school, you can really help reduce the gender gap in STEM.
Special thanks to my awesome colleagues for their support and help in making this happen
Any questions pop them below or on Twitter @ToriTompkins I’d love to hear about your own school coding workshops!
Content can be found on my GitHub: https://github.com/ToriTompkins/DataShare