VILLAGE OF PEWAUKEE - Hoping to encourage girls to explore computer science — a field that has typically been lower for females than males — Horizon Elementary School hosted its first event recently for elementary age girls interested in coding.
Girls Who Code was offered Feb. 19 to girls in grades four through six to promote the importance of computer science and coding. According to event coordinator and Pewaukee School District instructional technology coach (5K-6) Dria Setter, the event received interest from 40 students. Thirty students were chosen in a lottery, and 25 of them showed up for the event.
Horizon School volunteers and computer science and technology staff helped organize the event and activities, a school release said. The program was also helped by a Pewaukee Lake Elementary School parent working in cloud computing, Jon Schwenn, whose company, Digital Ocean, helped sponsor the event and provided T-shirts.
The idea came about from a technology conference Setter attended last year. Historically, the district had run an event called Hour of Code based on a worldwide event done annually.
"At the session I went to, they were talking about how they had a girls coding club, and how it was a good opportunity," Setter said, "and just looking at statistics, as girls get to college, the number of girls that are involved in computer science courses and eventually computer science jobs is much, much lower than males. After hearing that, I felt that it would be cool to bring that back toward Horizon."
The coding event was 2 1/2 hours, consisting of three 45-minute stations for students to participate in. Computer and noncomputerized activities comprised the sessions. One station involving students was "Binary Baubles," creating bracelets that spelled out their initials using binary code (a code made up of 1's and 0's).
Another station involved students using robots coded through a mobile app. Pewaukee High School computer science teacher Kristina Blomquist added to the robot station by including robotsrun through scratch coding out of MIT. Blomquist had some of the girls code those robots, Setter said.
"That was by far the girls' favorite activity out of all three," Setter said, "so that was fun."
The last session was the web-based Code Club, Setter said.
"It's a website that walks the kids through different programming tasks, and it's very directed on the website," Setter said. "The teachers that were interested in helping out but felt that they didn't have a strong background in computer science could easily work their way through the module and model that for the girls."
Setter was ill, and unable to attend the event. But based on feedback from students, the robots were their favorite part of the event. There was something about the hands-on component that they liked, Setter said.
"When you can put together a language of code and then make something else tangible move, I think there was a large feeling of success for them," Setter said.
Going forward, Setter said that the event will be offered biannually, with the next event scheduled in 2019. She said it involves more than just taking computers apart, but also involved critical thinking and problem solving skills.
"Knowing what different components computer science involves, I think, will be encouraging for them when they see those computer science classes come up in the future and make them more willing to give them a try," Setter said.