Today wraps our first full week of class here at the Hardin County Schools Early College and Career Center and the Girls Who Code class. Hardin County Schools is dedicated to reducing the gender gap in computer science and doing our part by integrating the Girls Who Code program into our IT pathway. As we navigate this new journey, it is my goal to provide a framework for other schools and districts who wish to do the same. For the duration of the year, I will blog a recap of the week including what worked, what didn’t work and of course…celebrations. 😉
Before the class actually began, we had to recruit girls to enroll. We have an enrollment in Hardin County Schools of approximately 14,000. We had to narrow this huge number into one more manageable. I had previously taught technology education at East Hardin Middle School, a feeder school to Central Hardin High School. I had taught a bit of computer science in my class and was able to generate a list of girls who I believed showed aptitude and/or interest in this field. I contacted all the other feeder middle schools (STEM teachers, math/science teachers and any teachers who would have worked with students in a STEM related area) and asked for a list of 10-15 girls. I mailed approximately 60-70 letters this summer to these students explaining the class and what we hoped to achieve. After adds and drops last week, we have an enrollment of 15 students in the Girls Who Code course. This number was nearly double the number for which we hoped.
Thanks to Laura Raganas, Digital Learning Coach in the Office of EdTech at the Kentucky Department of Education, and the passing of a technical exam, we were able to acquire the Girls Who Code curriculum and get signed up as an “official” club. I am both the sponsor and facilitator. If you are in the process of setting up your own club, the sponsor and facilitator CAN be the same person but your facilitator must pass a technical exam which will require them to read pseudocode on the basics of any programming language (loops, conditions, variables and functions).
The Girls Who Code program is designed as an after school club so using this program in a classroom setting would require some accommodations. The program itself exists within Canvas, the GWC learning management system. The resources are all on Google Drive. I am quite familiar with gSuite but had zero experience with Canvas. Learning a new LMS and navigating through the content was a bit of a challenge for me. For any newbies to GWC and Canvas, I highly recommend checking out their channel on Vimeo.
Friends. I have never had my OWN high school classroom. I have never taught in a career and technical center. I have never taught computer science. This is me jumping off a cliff and hoping there is a lake at the bottom. Can I even say that out loud?! I don’t even know. All I know is I love computer science. It became the breath of fresh air that I needed in my career. Creating something from nothing has given me so much joy and I want to give that same joy and passion to our students. Simply put. We will figure out the rest together.
There were several hurdles the first three days of the trimester that caused me great stress:
- Timing and logistical structure of class. I am the conductor of the OCD train, okay?! Okay. I have NEVER been good the willy-nilly, free spirited atmosphere that I see some teachers pulling off so well. In this classroom, I have students coming from three high schools located in different parts of the county. These students arrive at different times. Creating some type of structure that wouldn’t WASTE the time of one group of students but not RUSH the other group has been a challenge. I don’t have a solution to share with you yet but we are getting there.
- HUGE amount of content. GWC does such a good job at covering everything. The structure and outline of their curriculum are SO GOOD. It is TRULY inspirational. However, I discovered quickly (I think on day 1, actually) that something GWC said took 10 minutes actually took me 50. True story. If you are just starting out with GWC, keep this in mind when planning. GWC sessions are two hours in length but I find that it is MUCH MORE content than MY two hours can handle. I know that every one has different paces and the biggest thing is to meet your students where they are and go from there. By Friday I realized I needed to take a chill pill and no one was grading ME on how fast I could go through the material.
- Teaching. I’ll go ahead and say it…I think this is both a good and bad thing about the GWC curriculum. I am teacher. I want to TEACH. I don’t want my students to come in, get a computer, work, not talk to me or each other, turn off computer and leave. I am ENFP and we thrive on relationships. I needed to teach. I needed to engage them. What I noticed when I tried to “flip” a bit of this content (go back to #1 and timing of student arrival) I noticed that I was sitting at my desk, they were quiet, not talking, working. This just wasn’t the atmosphere I wanted to create. I needed to talk about the videos. I needed to talk to them about their ideas. I couldn’t JUST be behind a computer. Again, I think the flexibility of the program is quite unique. If you decide to sponsor a club and aren’t a teacher by nature, you will have great success. If you need to teach out loud like I do, I think you can still experience great success.
- Content. The GWC content starts off at a Level 0. This is great. No prior coding experience necessary. I firmly believe this is a huge reason why we have few girls represented in computer science fields because of the notion they must walk into a class with some existing prior knowledge. This is not the case with GWC. The part that caused me stress is that **most** of my girls have no prior knowledge. I felt as though jumping straight into talking about a CS Impact project (the cornerstone of the entire GWC program) was too overwhelming. How do you know what you want to create until you know a little more about your possibilities? We decided to step back and punt.
The GWC curriculum is divided into sections. One of those sections is the “Core 4.” The students work through activities based on their interests that teach them the basic foundations of any programming language (loops, variables, functions and conditions). For my girls and my class, I wanted to start here.
Enter: Ozobot. I am a hands on learner. I could see, very clearly from day 1, that most of my girls were as well. I also could see their eyes glazing over a little when, those first three days, they were coming in, logging on a computer and not talking to me or each other. I felt like the Ozobot was a nice introduction to problem solving and the first of the Core 4: loops. We started very simply with 3 robots. We divided into 3 groups and they were to “program” the ozobot. That was it. Sometimes play is the best way to learn, right? For the past few days they have been working together, creating designs on butcher paper, testing, coding and iterating. It has been quite fun to watch. Day by day I have seen each girl opening up a little more. There have been frustrations this week, robots malfunctioning and code not working but I’ve got to witness their persistence and help talk them through challenges.
We aren’t close to being done with this first bit and quite frankly, I don’t mind taking as long as it takes. My plan moving forward is to complete an activity for each of the Core 4 introducing them to these concepts and then jumping into the CS Impact project and the Core 4 activity sets.
I am all about environments. I need to feel comfortable in a space and enjoy being there. Before I even logged onto Canvas and looked at the curriculum I set to work on creating a space I hoped my students would enjoy.
It takes a lot of courage to do something no one has done before. It takes even more courage to believe in someone who says “I’ve never done this before but I promise you it’s going to be great.” I am so grateful these ladies didn’t ask questions and just said YES! I can tell you right now these gals are #WORLDCHANGERS and I wanted to create a place that reminded them of that fact every single day.
On the first day of class, one student (Rachel) had the suggestion to use the empty white wall for small white boards to write down their goals for week, celebrations or favorite quotes. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Two amazing teachers Ms. Hannah Thomas and Ms. Ashley Frye at Creekside Elementary School started tweeting photos on how they began transforming their classroom culture with positivity. Their ideas are so unique and creative and SO SPECIAL. It inspired me to to write each of my girls a note telling them something I loved about them. It was a fun way to introduce the boards. 😉 Not to mention I think building confidence and culture is really a cornerstone in the Girls Who Code movement. It fit in perfectly with our theme.
I also felt like one of MY favorite quotes of all time belonged in our room as well…
I feel like sometimes with subject areas such as computer science, it is easy to let the frustrations overcome you. It was important to me that we focused on celebrations. We had an empty wall so why not create a special place to celebrate the small victories!?
I could not be more excited about where this road will lead for my girls.
Interested in starting your own Girls Who Code club?! Click HERE to find out more!