Monday, February 19, 2007

You, too -- girls!

For nearly 10 years, the computer programming class met in the lab next door. Only once during those ten years, did I see a girl walk into that classroom. A little bit of research revealed that young women were notably absent from computer programming classrooms across the country. According to the New York Times article “Where The Girls Aren’t” “more than 19,000 boys took the Advanced Placement computer science examination in 2001, compared with just over 2,400 girls”. Thirty years ago, it was not unusual to see 2 or 3 girls in a Calculus class; today nearly 50% of the students taking the AP Calculus are female. Reversing this trend took a sustained investment in strategies focused on increasing the success of women in mathematics.

With the increase use of computers in today’s classrooms, work places, and living rooms, it is easy to assume that we no longer have a gender gap in high-tech courses and careers.

But the reality is that the participation of women in these areas have actually decreased over the past two decades. Whenever I lead activities that raise awareness about male/female ratios in tech related careers and courses, participants are always surprised at the gender gap. As a teacher there are many ways you can implement gender equity strategies in your classroom. Tech Integration across the curriculum is one of the top strategies. If girls are not flocking to computer classes, let’s make sure the computers come to “them”. Along with making technology part of everyday learning, creating opportunities where girls can gain skills and confidence with technology can help address the “experience gap”. One of the biggest challenges young women face when considering a high-tech class or career is not “aptitude”, but experience.

Maya, the only girl in her Java programming class, quickly noticed that
most of the boys in the class seemed to already know a lot about programming
from their experience with robotic toys, or from having built pieces of their
own computers. They seemed to already have a rapport with the
programming teacher comparing notes about their favorite video games strategies during class. Her programming class quickly turned to a very frustrating and lonely experience. When asked by she enrolled in this class, she
answered, “one of my teachers noticed that I was smart with computers and
learned HTML code quickly and invited me to participate in a
Tech Savvy Girls
summer camp.” There I spent a whole week learning cool new technologies
with all girls. I even took a mini-workshop in programming. It was
fun. I felt smart. I didn’t have “less experience”. My junior year I found I had an open timeslot in my schedule. I looked at the available classes that block. If it had not been for
Tech Savvy Girls, I wouldn’t have noticed programming, but some of the women role models I met in Tech Savvy Girls activities often mentioned programming as a class they took when they were in school.
Year after year, I listen to girls tell their stories during our Tech Savvy Girls activities and over and over again, I hear tales of teachers who provided awareness, inspiration, and experience opportunities to young women. My teacher often gave me extra computer tasks to do; my teacher recommended me for a computer camp; my teacher asked for my help with the computer; my teacher believed in me; my teacher recommended this course for when I get older;”

Look for information and opportunities to create activities such as “The Creative Side of Engineering” that send a strong message to girls that the world needs more than girls who “use” technology, the world needs their input into design and innovation.