December 19, 2018
Learn to code in Hamburg’s schools
We started our project moinschool with one idea in mind: to take away the fear and “I can’t do this” attitude girls have towards technology. As Marrie Curie said, “you don’t have to be afraid, you just have to understand everything”. We wanted to give the girls a chance to understand how programming works, and to encourage them to become creators of their future worlds, not just mere users.
First contact with programming at moinschool - from confusion to excitement
Our theme for this moinschool semester is smart home. Before we start with smart home design, our very first session consisted of defining a couple of variables and a very simple for loop. In the end, a short statement is printed out. Our strategy was to teach as little as possible and let the girls experiment and learn by doing.
As expected for the first programming class, the girls were very slow and cautious while they were copying the code from the board. As if they were typing a foreign language. Which they kind of were. There was confusion about parenthesis, curly brackets and square brackets. How do you type those in? The keyboards they were using were also new for them, so the entire process took getting used to. Which led to some frustrations and slight aversion.
One important lesson we learned as moinschool team: in this sort of setting, they need a lot of personal and individual attention and help. They don’t ask a question, because, I think, they just don’t know what to ask. They just disengage. So based on their body language, we individually addressed their confused looks and encourage participation.
Once first programs ran and the first print statements started showing on the screen, the mood slowly changed. Constructive questions started: “can it now do something else?”. We encouraged them to think of what else they want to see happen and try it. Which they did! After some debugging (spelling, missing parenthesis and semi-colons) they started changing and adding variables, playing with conditions within the loop and individualizing the print statements, sometimes to full stories. By the end of the first 80 min, the timid, confused group from the beginning became excited. They were having fun and proud of what they were doing. We were hopeful that the fear had been beaten and we can continue next time with a group eager to see what else they can make happen.
Working on our smart home features as a next step: button ON, LED ON
After our moinschool design thinking workshop and some basic programming introduction, we were ready to start building smart aspects of a house.
The material that the girls could use for constructing their smart home were Arduino boards and a few sensors (a button, a LED light, a fan, light sensor and a vibrating button) and a LEGO set.
In the previous session we had played around with a for loop, now the girls had to do the transition to controlling lights and sensors. Sensors had to be connected to the correct pins of the Ardunio Board and assigned as input or output by adding additional lines of code.
Button ON, all sensors ON - every programming session starts as if it were the very first one but the learning curve gets steeper
Since our last session was light on programming, we restarted with our “button ON, LED ON” loop. And the group was restarted. One comment puts it well into perspective “I knew it last time, but now I don’t anymore”.
That was another major lesson we learned: every programming session starts as if it were the very first one but the learning curve gets steeper. It was again amazing to watch the transformation happen. Once they got the LED to turn on, they tested out all the other sensors, in different constellations. They learned to debug and troubleshoot with hardware when something doesn’t work. And maybe most importantly, they were having fun and celebrating their victories. We again got past the fear from the beginning. If we do this often enough, maybe it stops coming back altogether.
Getting to know role models in addition to programming skills
This time we did not devote the entire session to programming though. Female consultants from Lufthansa Systems were talking about their jobs and answering questions. One of the contributing causes of the gender gap is a lack and invisibility of female role models in the field. That’s why it’s harder for young women to become what they don’t see. Our approach is to emphasize women in IT and bring their stories to light. Women who studied computer science, and those who did not. Women who loved math and those who did not. Women who knew they wanted to do IT, and those who did not. Visits were spread over the entire duration of the semester, and girls had a chance for questions and discussion.
Our new project moinschool started in September. We have noticed that with our programming courses, conferences and Meetups in Hamburg and Munich we reach a lot of motivated women of different age groups, but unfortunately school girls are still underrepresented. Therefore our school project moinschool started this school year. 12 weeks long we offer a weekly course, in which the students are introduced playfully to programming. The workshop is combined with a one-day unconsicous bias workshop, to which girls and boys are encouraged to discuss what we have already unconsciously learned and internalized about gender roles even at a young age.
We will continue to keep you updated. In the meantime reach out to us if you are a school interested in our program or if you would like to volunteer with us.