Happy International Women’s Day!

Why not mentor a young, inquiring mind?

Google’s Women Techmakers is a community created for women for the exchange of ideas and resources and support.  You can become a member to gain access to curated resources and events. It took me all of 2 minutes to sign up. I found Women Techmakers while researching events held on International Women’s Day, but Women Techmakers does so much more than celebrate this event once a year.  They have a wonderful scholar program that awards undergraduate and graduate women excelling in computer science, computer engineering or any other closely related field. They provide a directory of meetups created to promote diversity and inclusion. There is a map of the US displaying all the meetups and there is a wide variety of topics.  Women Techmakers also offers 100 Udacity scholarships to members for technical certification courses.

I would like to focus on a small part of what I heard from the keynote speaker for Women TechMakers on International Women’s Day last year as I gear up for this year’s speakers.  This is an annual event held each year on March 8 to celebrate and recognize women’s achievements throughout history around the world.  As part of this celebration, Google is planning a series of summits and meetups around the world that will be tailored to each local community.  20,000 women in 52 countries will participate in these events, which will occur throughout March and April this year. You can apply to attend these events and if you can’t get in, you can go to the Women Tech Makers YouTube channel and watch.  (https://www.youtube.com/user/womentechmakers/playlists)

I did not attend the Mountain View Summit, but I was able to watch it on YouTube, as this year was the first to live stream the event.  The Keynote speakers started out with Pavni Diwanji. Pavni is a Vice President of Engineering at Google, leading the company’s initiative to help reimagine Google’s products and programs for kids.  And it’s with this mention that she took on working with children that made me find out how exactly Pavni and Google accomplished this. I found that one of the initiatives was geared towards young girls, and having 3 young girls myself I researched a little further.  

The Made with Code initiative was created to help encourage passion in technology in teen girls.  There are some very interesting and quite surprising statistics I learned about that support the need for a project like this:

  • In the United States, 74% of girls and teen girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in middle school
  • By high school, only 0.4% of teen girls plan to major in Computer Science
  • Encouragement from adults and peers is the #1 contributor to a teen girl’s decision to pursue Computer Science

For one reason or another, most girls that start out with an interest in technology will lose it before their teen years.

Made With Code primarily uses Blockly, a client-side JavaScript library for creating visual block programming.  It reminds me a lot of Scratch, which is another tool for young coders to use to get into thinking like a coder.  There are many fun projects (games) to try that challenge a young coder (and old!) how to correctly sequence events to accomplish a goal.  While I was at the Made With Code site, my 9 year old son informed me that he had used this site at school to create music! It is nice to know that our schools are using these tools with all children as part of their curriculum, but I feel like it is a parent’s responsibility to further any interest in technology like they would for sports or for music lessons, especially when they are young.  Made With Code is teaching our children some common developers logic while making it seem like a game or puzzle.

Made With Code suggests more resources after mastering these fun Blockly projects, which included the most impressive initiative I found for kids from Google – CS First.  CS First is a whole curriculum offered by Google for educators and schools, and the best part is, it’s free! This program is directed not just to girls but to all children, primarily in grades 4 – 8.  This curriculum teaches Scratch. Once an educator or school sets up a CS First club, they will have access to 8 activities, which take 60-75 minutes to complete, which include instructional videos that help guide a student through creating a project in Scratch.  Very details lesson plans are provided for each of the 8 activities.

When watching the Women TechMakers celebration on International Women’s Day and hearing all the hardships and successes of these women, I kept wondering how the perspective of women in tech would be like for future generations, in particular my little girls.  I’m not seeing the tech space as a man’s world as much as I use to during my college years, and I’m hoping that’s not the way my daughters will come to see it when they become aware of how their video games are made. Like I said before, I really do think it’s the responsibility of a parent to recognize this interest, this spark when a child wants to learn why something works.  I applaud the schools in using these free tools to get young minds using common coding logic, even though they think they are just ‘playing’ a game and building something cool. I’m looking forward to using these resources on my children, especially my daughters. I will nurture any passion they may have for tech, and in the future, I’m hoping the number of girls that express interest in STEM at a young age continue that interest with confidence.  It’s so great that Google and Women TechMakers have recognized this need and provided so, so many resources – for parents, mentors, teachers – to take advantage of to inspire our young women.

Caption: Google Made with Code partnered with The White House and the National Parks Service for the 92nd Annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the President’s Park in Washington.

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