It’s pretty well known that women are under represented in creative and digital organisations, and that girls are very under represented in higher level computer science subjects.
It’s less well known why this is the case. Without knowing why, it’s really hard to do effective things to help.
TechResort prefers to work with a broad cross section of society, so our sessions and workshops are generally open to everyone. Sadly, women and girls don’t attend very often.
When the East Sussex County Council Library Service asked us to run some workshops specifically for women and girls to coincide with Women’s History Month, we were keen to help. It might help us understand whether occasionally narrowing the group we work with would give more women confidence in their skills.
Computing with Post-it notes
We’ve designed a “Coding for Mums” session for women who want to know what their children are learning in the National Computing Curriculum, so they’re better able to help at home. Like they already do with reading, maths and other subjects.
We started by learning about the principles of algorithms and how you design them:
- breaking tasks into small parts
- making sure the parts in the right order
- ensuring all the instructions are very specific
The first exercise is all done with Post-it notes. On each note, there’s a step for making a mug of tea, like checking the kettle has enough water. Participants were asked to check the steps and then put them in order. They create a method, or ‘algorithm’ in computer speak, for making tea.
We then moved on to creating an algorithm from scratch, this time for making toast. Participants wrote all the steps on Post-its and put them in order.
Moving to a coding platform
Once we were sure that everyone was confident with how simple algorithms are structured, we moved onto a coding platform. We used Scratch and Hour of Code – they’re brilliant free to use resources that many schools also use.
It was lovely to hear squeals of excitement as participants developed, tested and bug fixed their first bit of block based code.
One mum told us: “I just didn’t want to be left behind when my children are doing this at school”. She’s interested in doing more.
Making some of our workshops “women only” won’t fix all industry problems around the lack of representation, but we think it’s a good way to start to try and address women’s confidence in the subject. Thanks to the Library Service for giving it a try.
In the longer term, we’d love it if more women and girls joined our open sessions, so please get in touch to find out more.