By Ariel Schwartz (Senior Editor, FastCompany’s Co.Exist)
10 years ago – even five years ago – it was incredibly difficult for tech-minded girls going through the K-12 school system to find instruction tailored to them. If you wanted to be an engineer, you’d probably be stuck in a 95% male robotics club. And if you wanted to be a programmer? Good luck finding any female companionship. That’s starting to change, due in no small part to a crop of STEM-focused programs for young women.
Girls Who Code
One of the best-known programs is Girls Who Code, an organization backed by companies like GE, Google and Twitter that brings instruction in mobile design, web development, and robotics – along with mentorship from an impressive roster of female entrepreneurs and developers – to promising girls between 13 and 17 years old.
The 8-week summer program just graduated its first class of 20 young women from underserved high schools around New York City. Cora Frederick, a graduate of the program, told Women 2.0 that for her final project she “researched the manipulation of decision tree algorithms to improve the accuracy of machine-learned predictions of whether a breast cancer tumor is benign or malignant.”
Girls Learning Code
This Toronto, Canada-based program for girls between 9 and 13 was founded by the women behind Ladies Learning Code and is hosted by the Mozilla Foundation. Girls Learning Code is a a summer camp – but it’s also a series of workshops and events where girls learn everything from Gimp to HTML.
Coming up: the Winter Toy Hacking camp, a three-day program where girls will take apart toys and create their own inventions.
The Technovation Challenge
A project of science-education non-profit Iridescent, the Technovation Challenge asks high school girls between 13 and 18 to group themselves into teams and submit business plans, video pitches, and source codes for mobile apps. During the 10-week program, mentors and teachers lead the teams to completion of their final projects, which are submitted to judges like Jessica Steel, VP at Pandora; Charles Best, the founder of Donors Choose; and Ben Horowitz, the cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz. The winning team gets $10,000 and support for their app. In 2012, the program had 520 participants from across the U.S.
Black Girls Code
This San Francisco nonprofit encourages girls of color to become part of the next generation of programmers. Armed with a grant from Google and volunteers from companies like Apple and LinkedIn, Black Girls Code has taught hundreds of young black girls how to program over the past few years. This past December, the non-profit hosted a mobile app development workshop in Atlanta, Georgia; in the fall of 2012, Black Girls Code hosted workshops in New York, Atlanta, and Detroit. In the summer of 2012, lucky Bay Area residents were treated to multi-day workshops on robotics and technology.
None of this is enough. Girls need to be encouraged to pursue STEM in the classroom, not just in extracurricular activities. But these programs are a start, to say the least.
Women 2.0 readers: How do you think we should teach girls to code? Let us know in the comments.
About the guest blogger: Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Fast Company’s Co.Exist, where she covers transportation, healthcare, education, urbanization, green technology, and more. She has contributed to a number of publications, including SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, and GOOD Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @arielhs.