By Michelle Lange
Girl Scouts from Gary, Hammond and Merrillville, Indiana, were so into learning about technology that they loaded onto a bus at 7 a.m. on a Saturday and drove all the way to Chicago for an imagination-based approach to app design.
“We’re thinking about things like function, features and flow,” teacher Andrea Davis-Baptiste told the girls after they’d jumped into the workshop, developed by TechGirlz and delivered to the Girl Scouts with funding from Creating IT Futures. Davis-Baptiste is a programming and computer literacy skills teacher who volunteered to run the day’s TechShopz in a Box workshop, Designing Mobile Apps. “What problems does it solve for people and why would someone need or want this app?”
In the technology room of St. Agatha’s News School in Douglas Park, the fourth through eighth grade girls took time to brainstorm, collaborate and consider each other’s ideas.
“We’ve got them prototyping and learning the terminology,” said Georgetta Davis, who mentors and assistant teaches with her daughter, Davis-Baptiste, through Eminent Group Consultants. “It’s also an approach to technology using collaboration and teamwork.”
Through the step-by-step lesson, the Girl Scouts got deep into questions about user personas and what kinds of action buttons would look best. They spent the morning playing, thinking and drawing, and also learned wire framing, paper prototyping and why addressing the user experience (UX) is essential to any good technology design.
TechGirlz is a Philadelphia-based organization that has reached 10,000 girls over the past five years with engaging TechShopz that teach everything from putting a computer together to coding to robotics.
Girls Scouts has its own STEM programming but routinely collaborates with other nonprofits to maximize science and tech learning for its girls. These particular Girl Scouts were part of a special program called Girl Space, which helps fund programming in low-income neighborhoods. The TechGirlz / Girl Space collaboration will involve two groups of Girl Scouts each attending two TechShopz this fall as part of NextUp, an initiative by CompTIA and Creating IT Futures which aims to ignite interest in tech careers among middle-schoolers.
“It made perfect sense while the girls were in the midst of their fall STEM unit to connect them to the TechGirlz curriculum,” said Eric Larson, senior director, IT Futures Labs, Creating IT Futures. “We’re really curious with this pilot to see how the girls respond and whether both parties might want to deepen their engagement.”
TechShopz aim to change the way middle school girls think about technology by teaching skills that working tech professionals use in their daily lives. For example, mobile app designers tend to flesh out their ideas on paper, so they can then accelerate the coding process.
“It gets them working as a team, gives them a chance to do some problem solving and creative thinking,” Davis said.
Immersed in App Ideas
Ede Crittle walked into the room halfway through the workshop and found Girl Scouts researching everything from baby carrots to bubble letters to help inspire their app designs. “You can hear a pin drop,” Crittle said. The director of community outreach for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana was impressed by how immersed the girls were in their projects.
“It’s a new generation where they are familiar with technology, and it’s important for them to see the inner workings,” said Crittle.
In their rapid prototyping session, the Girl Scouts came up with some wild ideas for their apps while learning that technology can be a creative and challenging career choice. They made up apps based on some of their favorites, like musical.ly, where users pick songs or play games and win prizes at the end. “You can win prizes like free pizza,” explained Girl Scout Meyah as her team of Shimmer and Shine Gamers presented their app.
Another group of Girl Scouts created a food-based app called Enjoy!, full of recipes, ratings and a spot to upload food photos next to professional chefs so people can vote on who made it better. An app called Movie Play got lots of kids excited. It’s a picture-in-picture app that lets you watch movies and play games on your phone at the same time. Some invented app games like Finder, which challenges users to find different shapes, items and themes within the game.
“It sparks their interest in STEM careers,” Crittle said. Supporting this type of creativity and interest in STEM careers is exactly why the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana partnered with TechGirlz, CompTIA and Creating IT Futures.
“The girls can see how their everyday interests can blossom into careers,” Crittle said. “STEM careers are dominated by men and we need girls to understand at a young age that they can be whatever their hearts desire.”
Girl Scouts, leaders and anyone who wants to introduce middle school girls to technology can access the TechGirlz material, including TechShopz in a Box. Get started here.
—Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.