Voices from the Forest

Code Like a Girl: A Q&A with GFS Coders on Why Learning to Code is Critical

Byline: By Jackie Magaha ‘16 and Emily Oleisky '16

Posted: December 6, 2013

Q: With the Hour of Code program on the week of December 9-13, there’s a lot of attention on why computer programming is important to all students in the United States and abroad. How critical is computer literacy for girls?

Jackie: “It is not surprising to know there is a massive gender gap in computer science fields. I have experienced it at numerous robotics competitions and can easily recognize the feeling of empowerment I feel about being the only girl. It is amazing to be the change you wish to see within society. More women need to be in STEM-related fields, and it is so important for us to be well-versed in technology. I recently read an article from the Wall Street Journal and love it. Not only does it give awareness to women in computer science fields, but it also states reasons for why women are so sparse in this career and how people are trying to change the gender gap.”

Emily: “I think that introducing the Hour of Code at Garrison Forest will enlighten my peers on what it means to code and will encourage them to want to learn more on the subject. Since GFS is an all-girls school, this initiative is even more beneficial because it is empowering the idea of women in these fields.”

Q: Talk about the stereotypes of girls and women and computers.

Jackie” Many girls are not interested in technical fields due to the media. Lots of girls think that they will be the stereotypical geeky, anti-social nerd if they express interest. The media portrays it is abnormal for women to be in a computer science field. TV’s The Big Bang Theory, is an excellent example. Women are viewed to be the ‘jobless dumb blond’ or ‘socially awkward brunette that has a relationship with her computer.’ There is no one in-between, or ‘normal,’ in a computer science career portrayed in the show. The Big Bang Theory catapults stereotypes so far that it convinces the viewer the judgments are reality. I was very happy to find that Mattel is making a computer engineer Barbie. Although Barbie dolls can be demeaning and condescending to women and body image, this one is made to spark attention and have young girls show interest in a technical career and eventually want to code. The best way to stop ignorance is with education, and a change needs to be brought to where the people are.”

Q: How are you promoting Hour of Code events at Garrison Forest?

Emily: “I think that the Hour of Code concept is genius. It is a way to give a taste of computer programming to those who may not have a chance to code otherwise. Through this introduction, I believe students and adults across the world will be able to experience computer science for what it really is, rather than base their experience on the way media portrays this subject. While GFS has never hosted an event like this before, I trust that with our extensive planning and promotion of this event, it will be a major success. Jackie and I created a video about the programming we have done in A.P. Computer Science and showed the code.org video at Morning Meetings in the Upper School, Middle School and Lower School. To make the event as enjoyable as possible, students will be spread among classrooms with a computer science expert nearby in case they need help. Throughout the week, each division (Upper School, Middle School, Lower School and Preschool) will have their hour of code on varying days,using various programs suitable for the age range. To see the influence that this has on the student body, we are planning to have surveys before and after the Hour of Code. These surveys will ask about their opinion of coding and what they think of pursuing a career in computer science. The surveys will be accessed by QR codes to be posted around the school. I can’t wait for the event and to see the reaction to coding.”

To learn more about Garrison Forest and Hour of Code, click here.

Sophomores Jackie Magaha and Emily Oleisky are taking A.P. Computer Science and are the student representatives on a faculty and staff committee planning the Hour of Code events at Garrison Forest. Both young women are experienced programmers, have competed on GFS Robotics Teams since Middle School and participate in a variety of STEM-related co-curricular activities at Garrison Forest. Both are equally passionate about the arts. Emily dances and performs in the GFS musicals; Jackie, also a dancer, enjoys art classes and drawing. In addition, Jackie competes in the annual Johns Hopkins University Robotics Challenges, routinely beating all-male teams.
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