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6 experts and 3 parents have answered

Kelly Rose Bradford writer
Kelly Rose Bradford Journalist and broadcaster London, GB

Getting girls interested in creating technology rather than just using it starts way earlier than school.

Despite being inseparable from their smartphones and laptops, British girls still think that computing is for nerds. The latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that females make up just 16% of the students on undergraduate computer science degrees in the UK – that’s a fall since 2004’s 19%. In the US less than 12% of computer science degrees were awarded to women in 2010-11.

Speaking to the Guardian last year, Professor Dame Wendy Hall, dean of the faculty of physical and applied sciences at the University of Southampton, said that girls are put off by the ‘dumbing down’ of computing to IT literacy, which, says Hall, left them thinking that if they study computing they are going to become secretaries. Professor Hall asserted: ‘We have never broken out of the “toys for the boys” perception of computer science.’

So what can we do as parents to encourage girls to be more interested in the science and technology they so readily embrace as an end user?

Avoiding gender stereotyping in early childhood could be a good place to start. Even with the youngest children’s toys, the message seems to be that technology for girls is pink and pretty, and gaming is all about cutesy pets and style makeovers. An idle flick through a store catalogue’s toy pages demonstrates the gender divide loud and clear, with separate pink and blue pre-school ‘computers’ and learning tablets, pink and purple hued construction bricks, and ‘make your own perfume’ science kits, almost instilling in girls from toddlerhood that IT and science for them is glittery and fluffy and ‘girly’.

‘What message is it to a girl who might be predisposed towards engineering that the Meccano is in the boys’ section?’ one parent asked me.

What indeed. And perhaps that is the answer - we need to change our attitudes to what are girls’ and boys’ toys, educational choices and career paths in order for our kids - particularly our daughters - to follow suit.

3 Reply Share:
Opinion 1 year ago
Denis Oakley
Denis Oakley Inconstant Dad Kuala Lumpur, MY

This is a tangential answer but relevant.

My daughter loves maths; rather she loves the Khan Academy; rather she loves getting stickers and rewards.

Focusing on the gamification of technology learning would be amazing. One thing that I would like to see would be the gamification of coding so that my children learn to code just as naturally as they learn a foreign language

2 Reply Share:
Experience 1 year ago
expert answer
Ponn Sabra expert
Ponn Sabra Best-Selling Author Los Angeles, US
Education expert

@Kelly Hi! Great topic! Warning, I'm a bit biased as Math & Science came extremely easy to me as a kid, and I felt encouraged the first summer Science camp I attended in which I was the only girl, who was influenced by my daddy (mechanical engineer) and grandpa who lived with us (engineering surveyor). It was no surprised I married an engineer, huh? ;-)

Anyways, we only have 3 daughters and since birth we're mad (in a good sense) mathematicians & curious scientists. How? We talked math & science to led our daily activities. We caused them to think logically and critically...and to discover, explore and solve problems or research themselves. We rarely give answers, we make them figure things out and we help them in the process. All critical thinking skills.

So, how did technology come into play, here's how:

  1. Here are the steps we introduced the Internet to the girls from Email to Blogging.

  2. Their blogs are an extension first of their strong technical skills.

A. Their first blog was to "teach how to set up, format, design a blog" all the technical how-to's my then 10 yo wrote to teach her younger sisters "how to blog". What happened was my mommy blogging friends asked for advice, so I refer them to the kid-easy to read tutorials.

B. Now, their huge project STEMologist - Kids Helping Kids Love STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering & Math). We have weekly trivia questions, funny videos, and Apps for Kids recommendations (iPhone, Android & Windows8). I really encourage everyone to support STEM-Monday (STEM Trivia Everyone Must-know) and get more kids involved. In Week 4; we've had 1-3 participants, but we just secured one brand to offer prizes once a month.

3. (To jump off @Marty): My daughter was 8 yo when she made her first twirling ice skating girl on Alice.org This is great beginner stuff. Highly recommend this free stuff.

4. (To jump off @Denis): Right now, my girls are learning coding through Homeschool Programming. (affiliate link). We absolutely LOVE their stuff! I've been searching for years, because that 8yo of #3 is now 12 yo, and she was ACHING to learn real coding. The 11 & 9yo jumped at the opportunity and they all finished Visual Basic already. Here's a sample of my 9yo making Windows pop-ups for her daddy (VIDEO). That was what they did in the 4th of 14 week curriculum. This stuff is FANTASTIC!

I'm told, most kids and families don't do the "curriculum with tests" they just watch the videos and do the coding, but hubby and I don't know how to do this stuff...so, I insisted that they take the tests. Weeks later they still remember "codes" (a bunch of letters, #s and symbols to me); simply because they "applied" what they were learning. We have yet to make a full product review, which we should share their final products.

We're moving onto Game Programming next week. We actually had too many obligations this Winter, so they were only able to code 1-3 hours a week; but upon request, I lessened their load this Spring, because they insist they can finish the next curriculum over a weekend or week, IF given the time; because they definitely have the interest!

According to my girls, they think Homeschool Programming is MUCH more fun, and more "gaming" than Khan Academy. They're challenged to figure out the code and adjust it to their preferences and actually get it "right" themselves.

We typically have to leave one daughter by herself because she screams, yells, laughs, and cheers at the computer screen simply because things are either going or not going her way. It's hysterical, frustrating and annoying at times; because she's so hard on herself. I always take her away once she "gets it" and is cheering happily; because, we want to generate only pleasant memories that will cause her to return to coding happily rather than frustrated. She's never spent more than 1-hour at a time, which we believe is acceptable critical-thinking time; not overdone.

As for Khan Academy, again we're a bit biased. We used Sal's stuff before her got billions of dollars, and the girls and I LOVED his system much better before all the fancy stuff now...it used to be much more exciting, enticing, rewarding with primitive rewards and focused simply on the subjects learned. The get-it-right-10-times-mastery was much better, than all the leaves and prizes now.

That having said, the girls did most of Khan Academy's Computer Science classes, and we always use his videos for various topics, but not necessarily through the "system". They created cool monsters and stuff.

Other recommendations:

GameSalad.com - Fun, free, awesome! But, click and drag app development, not necessarily coding. So, we're using this for app development, so they can see an end-product much quicker than going step-by-step in the coding curriculum. Android, Mac & Windows. Some are paid, we only have the free.

Top 99 FREE STEM Websites Report - Every single website on this list is years of experience, in which the girls have tested and I have approved. There are DOZENS of Engineering, Technology (coding, development) sites listed.

SCRATCH by MIT - Free downloadable software that's made for kids (GameSalad.com is made for adults, so kids too). This is click and drop way to make apps, games, interactive videos. We downloaded this, but didn't get into it much. It's a great starter, I assume.

But. after talking to colleagues and friends who know the levels and interests of my girls, all said not to use SCRATCH.

So, we're doing Homeschool Programming (coding), GameSalad.com (app development) & Khan Academy's CS prgs our own list of STEM sites (Tech/Engineering sections) for fun and to generate ideas for their apps.

I'm so glad this question came up, and I actually had time to reply. I'll definitely use all this as a much needed blogpost, so thanks for the inspiration!

So where are we now? We are actively seeking a mentor(s) for the girls local universities. Right now we have 5 app developers, software engineers who they picked their brains. But, I know its time to take it to the next level. We will be blogging about their coding experiences and app development on STEMologist.com

Since they are girls, we'd love to get more girls sharing their experiences and trouble-shooting live with them on their blogs.

2 Reply Share:
Experience 1 year ago
expert answer
Marty Schultz expert
Marty Schultz CEO, McGruff SafeGuard Washington, US

We're now doing a programming course with Alice Programming (see Alice.org) that helps encourage girls (and boys too) to learn how to program by making video games or 3D movies. I will be blogging about it: https://stemmiami.wordpress.com/

1 Reply Share:
Experience 1 year ago
expert answer
Roberto Catanuto expert
Roberto Catanuto Teacher, Club Mentor CH
Education expert

One good example of tech integration in girls' education is the Roberta experiment in Europe. Younger girls are motivated to learn coding and designing robots with carefully tailored materials:

http://www.roberta-home.de/en

1 Reply Share:
Experience 1 year ago
expert answer
Lorraine Allman expert
Lorraine Allman Author, Businesswoman, Mum GB
Careers expert

Great question! One of the best campaigns addressing this exact issue at the moment is called Little Miss Geek - aiming to inspire the next generation of young girls to become tech pioneers. Belinda Parmar has written a book called 'Little Miss Geek' which outlines the problem and how it can be solved. They run after school coding clubs for girls, are running workshops in primary and secondary schools and much more. Highly recommend a visit to http://littlemissgeek.org/about/

1 Reply Share:
Fact 1 year ago
expert answer
Bettina Chen expert
Bettina Chen Founder of Roominate Mountain View, US
Technology expert

I agree that getting girls while they're young is key. Studies have shown that spatial skills between girls and boys are almost equal when they're young and with just a slight push in terms of what girls are exposed, their spatial ability stays level with boys. (and spatial skills have been shown to improve retention of students in engineering: https://www.stanford.edu/group/designeducation/wikiupload/4/46/ASEE2013_Scutt.pdf)

In addition to exposing girls to STEM at a young age, I think having female role models (throughout their education) is important as well. It's important for girls to be able to envision themselves in these fields by seeing other women working in STEM.

1 Reply Share:
Opinion 11 months ago
expert answer
Jill Hodges expert
Jill Hodges Founder of Fire Tech Camp London, GB
Education expert

I think the answer is to get them started as young as possible, before they have any social inhibitions about it. I think the club or social environments are helpful, too.

0 Reply Share:
Opinion 1 year ago
Paul Sutton
Paul Sutton I work in a school Torquay, GB

Not directly related but

http://wiki.ubuntu-women.org/

may be something that can provide ideas,

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Opinion 1 year ago

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