Friday, December 11, 2015

Hour of Code

Across the country, only one in four schools teach computer programming, while 67 percent of all new jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are in computing. Even more startling is the fact that only 18 percent of computer science graduates are women. In today’s world, where the top-paying jobs for college graduates are in the fields of computer science and engineering, it is important to give girls the knowledge and the confidence they need to discover and pursue their interests in STEM and narrow the gender gap in these fields.

This is why the leaders of Girl Scout Troop 45, which meets at St. Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk, arranged for the 55 girls in the troop to participate in Hour of Code, an introduction to computer science designed to demystify coding and show that anybody can learn the basics of coding. Girl Scout Troop 45 participated in Hour of Code on December 10, during Computer Science Education Week, a national program dedicated to inspiring students to take interest in computer science.

Saint Patrick Catholic School was eager to support the Girl Scouts in providing this opportunity for the girls. They allowed the girls to borrow the school’s iPads and Ashley Costanza, a teacher at St. Patrick Catholic School, offered to help plan the Hour of Code. She spent months preparing for the day, researching apps, figuring out how to use them and teaching the leaders of the troop how to be able to help girls learn through the apps.

Through the apps, girls learned the fundamentals of coding through engaging puzzles and a series of exciting, game-like adventures. They learned algorithmic thinking, sequencing, pattern recognition, conditionals and debugging by making video games and programming interactive stories. The apps also reinforce logic and critical thinking skills for the girls.

Kelly Willette, one of leaders in Troop 45, excitedly moved from table to table during Hour of Code to help the youngest girls in the group—the kindergartners and first graders—navigate the apps. As the hour went on, and the girls got the hang of how to use the app, they became more independent and started helping one another.

“Girls can do anything,” Willette said. “Unfortunately, as they grow older, girls tend to shy away from taking STEM classes, which can preclude them from a STEM career in the future and they don’t even realize it. This is a way for us to show them that STEM can be fun and encourage them to explore the world of STEM.”

Studies have shown just how important it is for girls to have an educational background in STEM. In fact, girls who take AP Computer Science in high school are ten times more likely to major in computer science in college. However, only 94 schools in Virginia currently offer this course and, of the nearly 2,400 high school students who took computer science, only 23 percent were female. This is why it is important for extracurricular programs, such as Girl Scouts, to teach coding.

Girl Scouts provides and fun and informal environment for girls to explore their interests in STEM. One of the latest STEM tools that Girl Scouts has introduced for girls is Digital Cookie, an online platform for girls to sell cookies through their own, personalized websites. The e-commerce experience of Digital Cookie helps to connect girls to the world of technology and shows them how it is an integral part of business in today’s society.

“Digital Cookie brings our traditional cookie program into the 21st century and provides our girls with fun and engaging ways to learn the skills they need to drive our future economy,” Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast CEO Tracy Keller said.

Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast also offers STEM events throughout the year for girls to work with and learn from women who work in STEM, including the Society of Women Engineers. The next event, STEMagination Expo, will take place on January 24 at A Place for Girls, the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast regional program center and headquarters in Chesapeake. Find more information about attending this event or joining Girl Scouts at