By Michelle Lange
TechGirlz has helped thousands of girls get interested in technology — 10,000 to be exact, a milestone the organization celebrated in last Saturday by holding 10 TechShopz events across the country.
Middle school girls in Philadelphia, Denver, Raleigh and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Durham, N.C., Chicago and New Orleans simultaneously learned about technology through different TechShopz in a Box. They learned how to make animated bracelets with micro:bit, tried out animation and graphics using Python, gave it a go with Scratch and a tiny computer called a Raspberry Pi and learned how to program with Kodu.
In Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, Trisha Rogers led a class on HTML and CSS coding at McCutcheon Elementary. With the help of some adult volunteers, she taught the girls how to write out their text, embed images and change up the colors on their own websites.
“Think of HTML like a sandwich. The first line is the pickle on top of the sandwich, opening and closing tags, like two slices of bread, condiments are the middle,” Rogers said. “The body is like the filling.”
None of the girls had tried coding before, and within a few hours they were all developing their own websites. In a room surrounded with inspirational quotes from student activist Malala Yousafzai, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki and tech exec Sheryl Sandberg, the girls in 6th, 7th and 8th grade used hypertext markup language and learned the difference between head tags, paragraph tags and div tags.
“I was surprised to see how much they could learn in just three hours, and they were excited because they could build their own websites with their own ideas and their own pictures,” said Rogers.
As they learned about files, browsers, applications and USB drives, the girls’ growing confidence was clear.
“It worked! It actually did,” said 6th grader Kendall Sumlar, after learning how to add images to her anime themed website. “I didn’t think it was going to work, but it did!”
By the end of class, she was so confident she was helping her friend Akemi Davenport add images to her web page.
Across town at Studio Xfinity, another dozen girls learned how to use pictures to tell a story. Girls learned about using pictures to make a point. During their workshop, they learned practical knowledge, like how to display data in a graphical way, where to find royalty free images, and how to use infographics to be persuasive.
The girls spent a half hour researching their chosen topics, like pizza, hamsters and games, and another making graphics in a drag-and-drop program. Once the work was over, they wrapped the day making cute presentations of their informational designs.
At a TechShopz event hosted by CompTIA at its headquarters in Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago, the girls explored the parts that make computers work and how the pieces fit together. The girls played around with the colorful inner workings of computers, learned the language around the parts and figured out how the pieces work together.
At all of the TechShopz events, a livestream played throughout the day, flashing to each group to show their progress. Mid-session, everyone took a break to do a live Google Hangout, where TechGirlz awarded prizes and let each group do a mini presentation of their activities.
“I’m ecstatic about how much they learned and it’s amazing how they just taught each other,” Rogers said.
Technology teacher Gerard Kovach agreed — and he sees these girls most days during the FUSE lab he runs at McCutcheon, and hopes to bring more TechGirlz events back to his classroom.
“It’s amazing how fast they’re picking up these technology challenges,” Kovach said. The school’s FUSE lab is up and running thanks to a grant from CompTIA and Creating IT Futures, and is filled with 3D printers, dozens of computers and lots of opportunity to explore technology, science, engineering, math and art projects.
“They’re learning 3D printing, making whistles, jewelry – did you see Frances’s earrings?” he said, referring to 7th grade student Frances Canino, who was rocking a pair of earrings that read “FC” — a design she’d made during a FUSE challenge and printed out on the FUSE lab’s 3D printer.
Programs like FUSE and TechGirlz are focused on getting middle school girls interested in technology before they voluntarily opt out, which has been the trend in the past. The approachable, hands-on sessions are available for free from TechGirlz, and can be led by anyone with experience in computers.
“You can all become great web developers and programmers,” Rogers told the class. “This is a great first start.”
To bring a TechShopz in a Box program to your school or girls’ group, email Joan Matz at Creating IT Futures.
—Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.