‘Girl Code’ Gets a New Meaning

by: Megan Gallegos, OWL Teacher at Grant Beacon Middle School

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a class like this all the time?”

Our Girls Who Code class started as a question.

OurFututreDemandsSTEM_infographic_COne day, all of the sixth-grade boys were held from lunch, leaving us a class of only a handful of girls. We showed them the beginning ofCodeGirl, the YouTube documentary about a girls-only coding competition, and they were hooked! They loved it and so did we. My fellow teacher Katie and I wanted to find a way to be able to give these girls an opportunity like this more often, and so we decided to create a Girls Who Code class. Our intention was simple: create a safe and supportive place for girls to learn the basics of coding. Many of the girls who ended up signing up for the class had taken one of our classes before, but as sixth-grader Daisy put it, “I thought it would be cool just to have girls this time.”

74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM, but just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science when choosing a college major. Courtesy of Girls Who Code.
74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM, but just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science when choosing a college major. Courtesy of Girls Who Code.

Our first day of class was surreal; we were in a middle school classroom and it was full of girls eager to “learn to code and create something awesome with it,” as eighth-grader Esmeralda explained. Even though Katie and I had been teaching these coding concepts all year, this day, this class, felt different and exciting. It was wonderful to see middle school girls interested in coding and we wanted to keep that interest alive. We spent the beginning of the class introducing them to different programs, such as Scratch and MicroWorlds, so that they would be able to use the format of their choice for the rest of the quarter. Now, their task is to create a Project for Change.

By providing the space and the tools they need to get started, the potential in our girls’ Projects for Change is endless. There are no boys “distracting me and asking for answers,” like sixth-grader Ericka is used to in her other classes. Instead, we have a group of girls connecting and “working well together,” seventh grader Vyvina pointed out. There is such a range of projects currently being worked on, all under the topic of promoting change. Girls are creating projects about the overpopulation of dogs in shelters, suicide prevention, racism, and stress relief. We have girls coding about math, the upcoming election, and health. Their inspiration comes from current events, like the Flint water crisis, their own lived experiences, and more.

It’s incredible watching these girls learning to code with their friends. Girls who have taken our class before have jumped right in, eager to build on the knowledge they already have and help those just beginning. They’re different ages, with different personalities and interests, yet coding gives them all a way to express themselves. Some enjoy the ability to use their artistic talents while others look to educate others about their passions. This class not only provides these girls with the opportunity to code but also to research something that interests them – something that could change the world.
Megan Gallegos with students-2