Girls can code

By Matt Warne. Posted

Matt Warne shares how a group of girls at his school have encouraged their peers to take up coding in their spare time

Last summer, a group of pupils from my school approached me about a simple idea that they felt would be really popular with the school community. They wanted to run and oversee their own Code Club at lunchtimes, but there was one catch… it would be for girls only!

Pupil leadership is certainly not a new concept at RGS The Grange, as the school actively promotes an array of opportunities, ranging from French ambassadors to Digital Leaders. The thought process behind this is to give pupils a chance to take on responsibility within school and develop their personal skills within a specific role. 

Milly, Daya, Lily, Sophia, Megan, and Rosie were regular attendees at the Thursday evening Code Club and, despite being outnumbered by boys, always worked hard to develop their confidence and skills with Scratch projects. The girls were extremely keen to attract more of their female peers into the club, and wanted to encourage more girls to get involved in learning how to code. The Girls Can Code leaders also wanted to give something back to the school community from which they benefited so greatly.

“The Thursday Club was packed full of boys and we thought we needed more girls to learn how to code” – Rosie, Code Club Ambassador.

The girls came to me with this idea of launching their very own Code Club and without hesitation, I gave them a lunchtime slot which I could help facilitate. We then planned the logistics behind launching a club. The girls marketed the club through a talk in assembly, posters, and even video trailers to entice people to sign up and get involved.

In September 2018, the girls launched their new Code Club. The club was aimed at young girls from Years 3 and 4, led by the female Code Club ambassadors. Giving up their lunchtime every Friday to run the club, the girls have been supporting up to 40 young and passionate seven- and eight-year-olds, who have been inspired by these young leaders. Despite there only being 21  computers in the IT suite, the girls promote a collaborative environment, and pair-up younger members of the group, so they can learn from each other. 

Often the young leaders will start sessions with computing trivia quizzes, through apps such as Quizlet or Kahoot! The session then progresses onto looking at the next Code Club project, where the leaders will offer tips and advice, before allowing the young attendees to immerse themselves in the joy of programming. The Code Club ambassadors always finish with a ‘show-and-tell’ session where they talk about things that have gone well (or not!), and then award the prestigious ‘Girls Code The World’ sticker to the chosen pupil of the session. 

Young leaders at RGS The Grange spend their lunchtimes supporting up to 40 younger students in their Code Club

The club’s impact

With support and guidance, the girls work through Code Club projects. They are currently looking at Chatbot, an AI programmable robot that uses variables to store answers, written by the user, and respond with them in conversation – the fourth instalment of the Code Club Scratch Module 1 certificate.

The impact has been remarkable: girls who attend the club are making exceptional progress in the classroom – potentially thanks to a boost in their self-confidence in the subject. The girls demonstrate an increased self-belief to tinker when programming, with a reduced fear over making mistakes. Prior to this club,  Module 1 certificates had only been attainable by Year 5 and 6 pupils, yet these inspired coders are grasping a thorough understanding of key concepts and applying them into their weekly lessons.

 Inspirational leaders

What the club leaders have achieved is inspirational, and is a testament to their passion for coding and making programming available to the whole school community. The girls have had a hugely positive impact and have really developed their own interpersonal and leadership skills through delivering the project. We have noticed that the young leaders are starting to demonstrate initiative and improved organisational skills – this change is partly due to the fact that the room full of young coders are simply reliant on them. The other factor might be that, although I helped to set up the club, I endeavour not take over or undermine the girls when they are presenting, demonstrating, or organising the group. If, as educators, we intervene at every possible correctable moment, pupils are losing the ability and right to make mistakes – these are the real moments of learning that the girls have used as a process to refine their skills. Whereas in the early days of the club they would turn up and try something new in a lesson, the girls now pre-test their ideas before putting them into practice, and they are confident they will add something of benefit to the sessions. 

“I know more about coding now, and I enjoy the session and supporting people with Scratch and Hour of Code” – Milly, Code Club Young Ambassador.

“It inspired me to help other people to code. People are looking up to me, I like helping people, and that’s a good feeling” – Lily, Code Club Young Ambassador.

 What’s next?

We wanted to know if the young ambassadors had thought about how they could use coding in their future career.

Rosie wants to be a computer scientist and knows that this club will really help her achieve this – “Code is part of my life. I like to code, I do it as a hobby and it’s fun!”

Millie said that coding is fun and that she is going to carry on learning so she can continue to improve her skills, and Daya shared that she knows that her coding experience is something that she can take with her into other industries.

 Having girls like the team at RGS The Grange leading the way for other young female coders, the future is in safe hands. We can’t wait to hear what they plan to work on next – whatever it is, we know they have the determination and drive to succeed!

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