“That’s just for boys!”
Likely, you’ve heard a young girl make this comment at one time or another. While the context might be innocent, it's alarming how many things are deemed to be "for boys" when, in reality, this couldn't be farther from the truth.
Science- and technology-related fields of study and employment are often treated this way, even though women have historically been at the forefront of groundbreaking scientific and technological advancements. Given this, it’s understandable that young girls could internalize a "boys only" mindset when approaching science, technology, engineering, and math.
While there is still a considerable amount of progress to be made, there are signs that more girls are being exposed to computer science earlier on in their K-12 education. In 2018, there was a 39% increase in the number of female students who took the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science exam. And here at The Coding Space, girls account for more than 50% of our students. Still, in 2015, only 18% graduates with a computer science degree were female. Why is this?
- Lack of early exposure. Studies show that students are ten times more likely to major in computer science if they are introduced to it early on to build their programming experience, like in an AP Computer Science class.
- Misconceptions about programming as a career.The media also portrays programming as an independent and "nerdy" discipline, whereas building software is actually a very collaborative and creative process.
- Afraid to make mistakes. Code rarely runs perfectly the first time you run it. Thus, learning how to problem solve, think critically, and debug code is a key programming skill and applicable in a variety of disciplines.
- Lack of female role models. The computer scientists and workers in STEM fields we learn about in history class or see on TV and in film are usually men. This lack of representation means computer science jobs often don't get added to girls' lists of career aspirations.
So what can parents do to spark an early love of STEM learning in their daughters?
Teach girls (and boys!) about famous female computer scientists
Storytelling matters. Tales of prominent female figures in STEM careers simply aren’t taught as often or shared as widely as their male counterparts. Here are just a few to talk about with kids:
- Ada Lovelace was a talented mathematician born in 1815 who is considered by many to be the world's first computer programmer.
- The story of Katherine Johnson was recently featured in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. An incredibly gifted mathematician, Katherine was hired by NASA to perform calculations. Her skills were so strong that once computers were introduced, she was asked to double-check the work of the machines!
- While it’s important to highlight historical female influences in computer science, it’s essential to showcase modern programmers, too. Recently, 12-year-old Samaira Mehta has been featured in the news and invited to speak at conferences for her work as a programmer — a title she earned at just 6 years old! Her work has helped children all across the US learn to code.
Encourage opportunities for girls to explore STEM
Extracurricular activities are important to help children develop their interests and passions; the same is true for encouraging a love of STEM. At The Coding Space, we aim to help boys and girls alike to explore programming concepts through games, hands-on fun, and coding challenges appropriate for a child’s individual skill level. From kitchen science experiments to opportunities to develop board games and engineer the tallest tower, kids are invited and encouraged to put their thinking caps on and solve problems, on and off the screen. You can learn more about our curriculum and approach here.
Demonstrate how STEM fits into what girls already enjoy
Did you know that the “A” in STEM stands for “arts”? Encourage kids’ creative side by showing young girls how science, technology, engineering, and math skills can be incorporated into whatever activities and hobbies they already love, like arts-and-crafts, music, and more. For fashionable kids, check out this DIY project for binary bracelets. And for playtime, consider STEM-based toys like GoldieBlox or subscription services like KiwiCrate that encourage engaged play and foster critical thinking skills.
Provide a safe space to learn.
Confidence is key in many areas of life, and learning is no different. Because young girls may initially feel unsure about their abilities in STEM areas, it can be difficult for them to thrive in co-ed classes. That’s why we’ve created GirlCode. This girls-only class provides a supportive community environment where girls are encouraged to try new things, make mistakes, and build confidence and creativity through learning to code. By creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for girls, we can help change the gender gap in tech.
Interested in learning more about how The Coding Space can spark a love of STEM learning in your child’s life? Fall classes are now in session. Check it out here.
A version of this article originally appeared on junilearning.com