How a Renton Park Elementary teacher is working to close the gap between male and female computer scientists
February 17, 2017—Girls at Renton Park Elementary School are learning to use computer coding to manipulate famous works of art. The early-morning club helps students better understand how computer coding drives so many different electronic devices and programs; but also works to chip away at the male-dominated field of computer coding.
Renton Park Elementary teacher David Bussey had been reviewing statistical data showing a steady decrease in the percentage of female students participating in computer science courses in college, and receiving computer science degrees. He also saw that there is a large gap between the numbers of male and female students who take computer science courses in high school. (According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, 81% of male students, and only 19% female students, take Advanced Placement (AP) computer science in high school.)
So, Bussey decided to do something about it. Earlier this school year, he began collaborating with Rena Clark, a Renton School District digital learning coach, on how to provide his school’s female students with the opportunity to be exposed to computer science. His idea was to start a girls coding club using Google CS First, a free program tailored for elementary students using a block-based coding system that increases student access and exposure to computer science education.
Bussey invited the school’s 5th-grade girls to attend a before-school club once a week, for free. Sixteen girls signed up; then, as a group, they worked together to decide that the focus of the coding class should be art. Using the Google Scratch program, the girls began learning computer science and coding, while creating and manipulating famous pieces of art. Then, the girls advanced to coding a program that a robot can read and follow, like programming a robot to negotiate through a maze (pictured).
“We want to encourage and prepare as many female students as possible to take computer coding courses as they move on to middle school and high school,” said Clark. “Then, hopefully, they’ll be more encouraged to take computer science courses in college. It’s also a way for girls to be introduced and get excited about computer science, and allows them the opportunity collaborate and problem solve with other girls.”
The girls in the club have also used code.org resources, created paper circuit cards, and most recently, through a grant from the Friends of Renton Schools foundation, the girls (along with many other students at many other schools) now have access to several different robots that they can code.
The girls say they’re having a lot of fun in the club. But more importantly, they now have the confidence and skill to take on computer coding classes in high school, college, and maybe as a career.