By Michelle Lange
Girl Scouts in Chicago played around with the colorful inner workings of computers on Saturday in a workshop that gave them language for the components, knowledge of how they work—and the confidence to put it all together.
“At the beginning, nobody was willing to volunteer to share what they knew,” said Diana Gonzales, who led the day’s TechShopz in a Box workshop, put on by Creating IT Futures. “By the time we were done it was like, ‘Hey, I have something to say,’ even the little ones.”
Gonzales is a tech teacher at Maria Saucedo Elementary, teaching kids how to code, make games and build websites. On Saturday, she worked with College of DuPage IT pro Deanna Cole and IT security expert Leigh Weber to introduce a classroom of Englewood Girl Scouts to the inner workings of desktop and laptop computers.
None of the 17 girls in fourth through eighth grade had ever seen the inside of a computer.
“By the time you’re out of here today, you’re going to know what’s inside a computer and how to put it back together again,” promised Gonzales.
First, the Girl Scouts imagined computers they’d like to build: Computers that talk and make music and even cook breakfast.
“I’d like a computer that turns on when you walk by, so it’s ready to start when you’re there,” said Perion, from Arthur A. Libby Elementary. Gonzales pivoted their ideas into explanations of inputs and outputs, why computers might need sensors and microphones, and the parts they’d play with that day.
This yellow square with lots of intricate parts? That’s the CPU. “It’s like a brain of the computer, and it gets instructions from the hardware and the software,” Gonzales explained. The green thing with squiggles? The motherboard. “All of these little dots, these are all circuits and they’re all labeled. Every single one does something to make the computer work, and everything plugs into the motherboard.”
Songs and jokes floated around when the girls broke out the screwdrivers and hunted for parts. A CPU. Yes. Motherboard, got it. Power supply, hard drive, memory. As they finished pulling everything out, the girls hopped to different tables around the Winslow Redmond Community Technology Center at St. Agatha’s former school location to see what everyone was up to.
Later, Gonzales reminded the girls they had to put their computers back together, and everyone’s hands were suddenly busy again, passing pieces back and forth and pushing computer parts into place. As the Junior and Cadette Girl Scouts figured out the puzzle, they turned to help others along, with confident solutions like, “It goes right there, where the brain goes.”
Two hours in, the Girl Scouts — who had never looked inside a computer before — were helping Gonzales make good on her promise.
“I love teaching people how to break things and put them back together again,” she said.
Why STEM Lessons Matter
In her experience as a teacher in a majority Latino neighborhood in Pilsen, Gonzales teaches mostly boys because the girls don’t sign up for tech classes. “They might not be discouraged to play with technology, but they’re not encouraged,” Gonzales said.
Girls need experiences like this to get them interested in STEM education, where girls and women are generally underrepresented. Experiences like the TechShopz workshop make technology appealing, she said. And in an all-girl setting like Girl Scouts, the girls are more likely to speak up.
“Through workshops like this they get an understanding of how computers work, and some of the parts that are necessary, and hopefully they get a little more interested in technology and learning how to fix things,” Gonzales said. “It teaches a lot of self-confidence, collaboration and cooperation.”
Anyone can introduce girls to technology using a free TechGirlz in a Box workshop. Visit the site, sign up and start teaching.
Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.