Thirteen and fourteen-year-old girls can be a tough crowd. It’s all about fitting in, impressing your friends and moving with the pack. How do you get them fired up about tech, and coding — a male dominated industry that couldn’t be further from teen pop culture?
At Code Rangers we run coding workshops, both large and small for schools and holiday programmes, girls and boys. Our goal remains the same: to spark an interest in coding and have students see the digital world around them, and their place in it, through fresh eyes. When our audience is made up of teenage girls, we proceed with care — the session needs to be creative, can’t be patronising and the girls need to feel in charge.
So what are our top five ways to create a memorable introduction to coding?
#1 — It’s got to be real
Out there, in real life, coders don’t code as an end in itself. Coding opens the door to creativity and solving real world problems. Be up front about how the world around us is made with code, show examples, and have students think about how they interact with code every day. They’ll never look at traffic lights, snapchat and air conditioners or Pokemon Go in the same way again once they start thinking about the code behind the product.
#2 — Show examples of females who are killing it
There are numerous great local tech start-ups headed up women — as an example, look at Canva and it’s co-founder and CEO, Melanie Perkins, and how far they’ve come. From an idea to make school yearbooks easily, to over 83 million projects created. There are teams of high school girls in Australia building apps that are taking them to Silicone Valley — check out Team Reading Republic — a product of the amazing Tech Girls Movement. Portray them on screen and treat them like rock stars — talk about their journey and their first steps.
#3 — Low floors, high ceilings and wide walls
Pick an activity that anyone can do without feeling intimidated — that’s your low floor. Confidence is a fragile thing and you don’t want students to switch off because it’s too hard. Choose an activity that the brightest and keenest can push further and further — that’s your high ceiling. And the wide walls? Allow scope for students to interpret a project in their own way. We recently taught students to create a game — my version had a kitten in spectacles defending itself from 20 attacking moustaches — which you can play here. After 20 minutes in the room, we had every possible combination of Taylor Swift/ Katy Perry and Justin Beiber you can image, we had disco balls and unicorns, bacon and eggs and Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama!
#4 — Fail often and fail publicly
Show that mistakes are not a problem. Be fearless, try new things, show your bugs to the students instead of privately fixing them to have a perfect product. Trial and error is how the best coding is done. Test often, fix often, try, try and try.
#5 — Look at me, look at me!
What teenager doesn’t love a stage? Make sure there’s time for the kids to show off their work to others and get real world likes. They’ll have so much fun looking at other projects, and they’ll see how they can improve theirs. Encourage positive feedback and make a class to-do list of how to improve the project for next time. Celebrate a finished project and a job well done.
An engaging project, with some real world context, and a chance to laugh, share and create — it’s the ideal mix for getting a tough crowd on board with coding. Who knows where they’ll take it?