Changing the Ratio: Teaching Bankstown Girls High School to Code with Commonwealth Bank
11 Aug 2016
7 minute read
Bankstown Girls High School have been interested in developing STEM in their students for a while, so we asked them if they’d be interested. Not long ago they had an Arduino project and this program augments their existing Information Technology focus. The program was set up by the Head of Mathematics at Bankstown Girls High School, an an initiative to “Get our girls coding’’, as she put it.
Over 12 weeks, 27 girls from Year 7 to 10 learnt how a web app is designed, and then built one together. It’s intended to give girls who are a little interested in what working in STEM is like a more hands-on experience of what it might be like. Their teaching language was Ruby on Rails.
Equal parts theoretical & vocational, with a practical focus at heart so the girls could create their own apps, the girls learnt what it took, and they learnt they were capable.
This program has not only removed the stereotype from my head but changed my entire dream career path. So much that I have started to consider doing a degree in computer science.
At Coder Academy, we believe strongly in the potential of young people. So we made the decision that this high school course would have the same material as our part time course, Web App Builder — web development & programming fundamentals—however, slightly different end goals. Combined, the whole cohort would finish a project together, and also individually each students would complete their own.
We’ve just finished this, a pilot program, in collaboration with Commonwealth Bank. Our aim is to teach 500 public school girls, and bring more girls to see that STEM, or even STEAM, can be a career for them. STEM is the future. And girls can code.
I’m sure everyone will agree that through the extensive knowledge acquired through the pilot program we all could have a future in the coding industry.
The students visited Dropbox & Google where they listened to speakers and got to talk to coders working in industry. They also heard from Canva’s Senior Graphic Designer, Poppie Pack & startup founder Kiah Hickson.
The girls are really interested in self-driving cars. One of them alone asked five questions about it at Google, a company that’s been building self-driving cars for a little while. She had clearly been tracking the story for a while. While many don’t plan to become career coders, they see the importance of tech in future careers and they like the attitudes and culture that they’ve seen in Dropbox and Google—very inclusive and merit based. Most of the girls plan to continue learning to code, and joining meetups and online communities centred around coding. The program has encouraged them to take STEM subjects and pursue STEM as a career in the future. The students felt they had a great grasp of the fundamentals of coding by the end of the course. They found the course load challenging but approachable.
Before this experience, coding wasn’t something I would see myself doing in the future. Now however, it is something I would want to combine one of my passions with.
The first step for any successful web developer is to identify a problem and create a viable solution. Thus, we asked the girls to identify a problem that all of them shared. What did they come up with? Well, the girls realised that though they all have particular interests, they don't know with whom they hold these interests in common. (Hint: STEM!) The solution? Build a platform to allow the creation of groups based on interests, and schedule events or gatherings within the school grounds.
This is, of course, Meetup as we now know it. But, it's exclusively available to students of Bankstown Girls High School, and an age-appropriate version for high schoolers with specific interests. In other words, it's age appropriate and location specific without the fustiness of apps written by much older coordinators and coders. The girls are much more likely to utilise and engage with the app because it was made by them, for them. All students and teachers can create a group, and then an event, so they can identify others in the school with similar interests. Sounds good to us!
Although I am still unsure of the path I would like to take later on in life, I know that coding and computer science will always be kept in mind, especially after this program.
The aim was also to combat the cliquey nature of high school social lives, and give students more opportunities to branch out and meet other people without feeling scared of what the reaction might be.
70% of the girls want to continue with coding after the end of the course.
One student decided she was highly considering a switch from psychology to computer science after completing the program. This girl had a vague enough interest in STEM to sign up for the course, but no idea that coding existed before doing the course.
CommBank & Coder Academy are aiming to teach 500 public school girls to code. Watch this space!
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