This week after returning from PASS Summit in Seattle I was asked by the local Girl Guides group to come talk to the girls about my career. Since attending the WIT (Women in Technology) lunch this year at Pass Summit I have been excited to get my girls and their friends interested in technology. According to recent research, girls going into high school are at the highest risk of choosing to move away from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses. The group of girls I spoke to are 12 and going to high school next year. This was my perfect opportunity to have an impact. I could not say no.
Now what do I say to 12 year old girls? I am officially asked to talk about what I do, how I got started and what are the prospects of the field. This does not sound fun for a 12 year old. When my daughter found out I was going to be speaking about what I do, she rolled her eyes and groaned. She has seen me many times at my computer deep in code and working intently and even once asked me. “Do you understand all that?” When pointing at a particularly long piece of code that I was writing. After the groan, I promised I would talk about technology and not my specific job. In truth, I really want to talk to them about technology and how all-encompassing it is. Fashion designers to physicist use technology to create learn and share their knowledge. You do not have to be a traditional “Geek” any longer to create with technology. I do still refer to myself as a geek with pride, but not everyone believes me. I am a geek and my super power allows me to do amazing things with computers. Getting back to the keeping a group of 12 year olds engage I searched the intranet for ideas and stats and all things WIT. I was getting lots of stats and other boring pieces of knowledge when my daughter comes in and looks at what I am doing. “Well just don’t make it boring. Do a game or something”. Well that turned out to be a stroke of genius.
I did some searching and adapted a game from www.digitalschoolhouse.org.uk. The premise of the game is to get the kids to use yes and no questions to divide a group into separate pieces. Then you separate them down till you have only one child each in a group that makes them unique. Once you translate the yes’ and no’s into 1’s and 0’s you have the idea of how you think and how a computer thinks. You just wrote a type of code.
Here is how it works
- Start by asking the kids what makes them unique
- Write the list on the board. (eye colour, hair colour, glasses)
- Ask them to pick one trait that divides the group into 2 groups.
- Split the class by asking each student as they approach you. Depending on the answer, the child will stand to the left or right of you, depending on whether they answer “yes” or “no”. Do the same for the second child, third child, and so on.
- After all the children have answered this question, perform a Peer Assessment activity by asking them if they agree with who is standing in their group. If they do, record the names of the children in each group on the diagram.
- Continue this process of questions, dividing and verifying until there is only one person in each group. With older kids by completing these activities the children will grasp that they need to present questions in a format the computer can process. This provides an excellent opportunity to extend their understanding to know that data needs to be converted into binary to be processed by a computer. You can do this by repeating the branching database by getting them to represent the “yes” and “no” answers as binary “1” and “0”.
This is a good point to mention that if you can count from 0-1 you can be a computer programmer!
Once I did this and mentioned that regardless of what their particular passions was there was technology career for them. In particular, my favorite site was www.dotdiva.org . This site has a drop down box where you choose what you are interested in and it gives you a list of what you can do with technology as a career for that passion.
Recently one of my mentors John Morehouse told me that if you reach one person and teach them something when you speak it was a success. He is right. I had many message the next day from parents telling me how much their child loved my talk and some of the kids went directly home and started exploring the sites I gave them. One mother even asked if I would teach her. My own daughter came home and went directly to www.scratch.mit.edu. Within 20 minutes she had created a horse, turned it green and made it dance and sing! That is what I call success!