Girls and Computing

Teaching 8th grade has to be one of the hardest things ever.  I dare anyone who thinks they know what they’re doing in life to put themselves in front of a group of 8th graders (girls, even) and see if they can hold their own.  I’m betting most people won’t last 5 minutes.  I don’t claim to be good at it.  I struggle every day, but I’m determined to reach them.

I teach a required “technology” class in each grade level that meets once a week for 10 weeks.  In 6th and 7th grade, things are going swimmingly.  In 8th grade, things were not.  I teach Scratch in 8th grade.  My plan was to have the girls create 3 Scratch projects of increasing difficulty.  I usually end with having them create a video game.  That worked okay the first trimester, but this one, I got a lot more grumbling after we finished our first project.  I decided not to fight it.  I asked them what they wanted to do.  Tell me, I said, what technology/computing projects would you like to do?  Many wanted to do video projects.  I suggested social media of some kind.  And they jumped all over that.  So, now, I have two groups doing projects on Tumblr and two doing video projects.  I was a little unnerved about this.  What if they suck? What if they goof off?

Today, though, the two groups working on their Tumblr projects were doing awesome things.  One group was customizing their theme, creating tabs, even digging into some CSS.  At one point, one girl said, “This being techie thing is really hard.”  A girl responded, “Yeah, but it’s really fun.”  Girl one said, “You’re right it is.”  Later, someone in that group said something about how many details were involved in technology.  I just smiled.

The other group, which is really just one person, took a bunch of photos and opened them up in a photo editor and started manipulating them to make them more interesting and different.  She was playing with levels and saturation.  And that was pretty awesome.

Maybe they weren’t doing exactly what I’d had in mind at the beginning of the class, but I actually think they’re learning stuff, and for the most part, they’re doing it on their own.  They were Googling the answer to how to manipulate the html to make their tabs work.  They figured it out before I could even help them.  I think that’s pretty empowering.

I also got some feedback from my CS students this week, who are a great bunch of students, really fun to work with.  I wanted to know how they liked the class so far, what I could differently next year for the things already covered, and what they’d like to be sure to cover this year.  I also wanted to know how likely it would be for them to take another CS course in the future, whether with me or later in college.

Here are their thoughts, summarized:

1. They generally like the class and find it fun.  The projects we’re doing are varied and interesting to them.

2. They all hate it when the technology doesn’t work.  I would second that, and I’m working on fixing those issues.

3. They want to go on field trips.

4. They want the class to count for something toward graduation other than a basic elective.  Some suggested language. 🙂  I laughed because Mr. Geeky tried that same strategy in grad school in order to avoid taking another language.

5. On a scale of 10, with 10 being very likely, the likelihood of their taking another CS course ranges from 4-9.  I thought that was pretty good.  I can handle a moderate likelihood of taking a CS course.  Heck, after my own first course in college, I never wanted to see CS again. You can stop laughing now.

6. Lack of interest is certainly an issue, but lack of time to fit the course in is a bigger one.

7.  They all liked that the class was small (7 students).  I did too!  They emphasized that the small class size meant a lot of personal help, which is important to them.  If the class gets larger, and frankly, I hope it does, I’ll have to figure out a way to deal with that.  Pair programming or peer instruction.  Something.

It’s been fun to teach, for sure, and I hope to improve upon what I’m doing next year.

2 Replies to “Girls and Computing”

  1. The hardest for me was 6th grade in a K-6 school. In the K-8 school 8th grade was much harder than 6th or 7th. But no matter how you look at it middle school is hard. My wife loves teaching 6-8. My son loved it as well when he was doing it. (He’s an assistant Principal in an elenentary school now) But me? Before 6th or after 8th thank you very much.
    All that being said I think what you are doing is great. Kids will work wondered when given a little freedom to learn things on their own.

  2. See, that’s the leap of faith and trust with the inquiry-based model, right? That if you give kids the freedom to choose, they might choose poorly. They might not learn content.

    We’re talking about that a lot in my curriculum course. How can librarians support teachers and create environments where they trust kids to take the leap?

    Part of the problem, I think, is that no one trusts TEACHERS anymore. It’s hard to extend trust when you’re demonized.

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