In just its third year of existence, Girls Who Code @ University of Minnesota is going strong! This year we have an amazing turnout of 28 girls ranging from 6th to 12th grade, coming from public and private schools across the metro area.
As the program continues to grow and expand, our amazing team of volunteers and educators are continually updating the program to meet the needs of our students. In our first year, a single beginner program was run over the course of 7 months during the fall and early spring. The following year, we ran two programs back-to-back: a beginner course in the fall, and an intermediate course in the spring for students who wanted to further their skills. This fall, GWC @ UMN is running two programs side-by-side, to maximize the experiences of everyone involved!
All girls start together each night for a chance to hear from real women who use computer science in their jobs, from a variety of different fields. Speakers so far have come from a variety of fields, including nursing, geography, and virtual reality, as well as different career stages, from graduate students to faculty. These Spotlight Speakers teach the girls not just about their careers and how they use computer science, but what it’s like being a woman in their field. Teaching assistants recap with the girls afterwards in small groups to discuss what they learned, what surprised them, and what questions they have to promote discussion with each other and the speaker, so that each girl can engage at her comfort level.
After the Spotlight Speaker, the girls are split into the beginner and intermediate levels to learn and work on their projects. The girls are led by graduate and undergraduate student volunteers, as well as alumni and UMN faculty. These volunteers tag-team instructing weekly, as well as serve as TAs to help answer questions one-on-one. Both levels are working on projects based in the Python coding language, which provides a good balance between being intuitive enough for the girls to readily understand, and flexibility in project development.
In the beginner level, girls are learning introductory concepts for computer coding (variables, loops, lists, and functions), and are currently working on applying their skills to coding their very own “Hangman” game. This game will allow them to apply the basic information and tools they’ve gained so far into a single project, showing them not only how to utilize each of these tools, but how they come together to make a finished product. Their Hangman game should be complete in the next week or two, so be sure to check back for a chance to play!
The intermediate level course is also refreshing on Python basics, while also diving into some more advanced concepts, such as dictionaries and user interfaces. They are working on learning the finer points of Python syntax, and how the program interprets these commands. Whereas the beginner students will be creating several smaller projects with their skills as they go, the intermediate level students are working together to apply their skills to a single, final project of developing their very own ChatBot – a program to artificially simulate conversation through a computer or mobile interface. They will be working on this throughout the whole semester, building and expanding their work as they learn new skills and ideas.
Through GWC @ UMN, the girls will also learn many things beyond coding skills. In developing their projects as teams, they are taught important project management skills for how to bring a task to completion. They are given the opportunity to network and work as a team with other girls from around the metro, building their community and making them more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone. They are taught that it’s okay to try new things and make mistakes, and that troubleshooting is a significant part of any success story. They are connected with students, staff, and professionals working in diverse fields with a wide range of interests who can introduce them to career opportunities that they never knew existed. The girls will learn not only the hard skills of coding, but will gain valuable experiences that will serve them no matter what they do.
Check back weekly for updates on the girls’ progress on their projects and their experiences in the class! We will be hearing from GWC @ UMN students and TAs about what they’ve learned, the people they’ve met, and what makes them most excited about coding!