Hidden Figures no more

by Kidscontent Founder, Claire Comins

When girls at a Marin Teen Girl Conference asked me where they could learn to code and make apps, I found there wasn’t a class offering anything similar nearby. So I found like-minded people to help set one up. With the movie Hidden Figures still fresh in our minds and providing a theme for next year’s Marinovators event at College of Marin, it seems like a good time to shout about it.

2017-04-01 09.27.16Making apps is a great introduction to using tech creatively and purposefully, something I regularly write about and the motivation behind the iPad app I created with and for my daughters in 2012. For girls, the most important thing for any activity is that it is social. Coding is perceived as a solitary activity, but this is really not true. The skills needed to make an app are varied and the most successful app proposals I saw in my Technovation Challenge class for teen girls last year were the ones with larger teams that could spread the workload.

Technovation Challenge is a girls-only international app development competition and girls create prototypes of apps that solve community problems. The problems the girls chose to solve via apps were homelessness, lack of affordable school supplies, animal welfare. Girls self-selected their jobs on the teams – coder, designer, business research and marketing. From leading brainstorming sessions to market research, business planning, branding design and coding, I was impressed by the seriousness with which the girls took to the task – and by the camaraderie that formed in the process.

But although the girls had great ideas, they all needed more help to code their apps. None of these girls had done any coding before. Although code.org is already showing its impact in many schools in the US, in my County it’s often not in the school curriculum unless children select it as an elective. If girls wait until High School to choose coding, they often find the classes dominated by boys.

For girls, the more relevant coding is to their lives the better. Marin girls are overwhelming equipped with iPhones. So the latest class I am offering at Kent Middle School introduces girls to Apple’s programming language Swift.

It’s important that as well as learning to code, girls can be inspired by female role-models. So we’ll be inviting girls in the class to take part in all the STEM events that Kidscontent and TinkerTech take part in where they can see plenty of women using their STEM skills – local hackathons in Marin and in San Francisco’s Bay Area, and at STEM & maker events like Marinovators at COM. We’ll also be inviting women in tech and local high school students learning to code to visit the class. As Redwood grade Olivia Wong who won the Congressional App Challenge 2016 for her app, Is It Recyclable? says

‘I think the reason girls don’t do any computer science classes is because there are literally only guys in the class,’

‘It’s a recent thing that it’s become so male dominated,’ she adds, talking about how she was inspired by the original female computer programmers who were women. ‘But if it keeps going the same way, girls will be too intimidated to do it. I think having more classes that are girls only is a great idea.’

Interview with Congressional App Challenge winner Olivia Wong