Mentoring Lower School Girls in Coding
Aliza Rabinovitz (Grade 11)

Aliza Rabinovitz is an 11th grader at CESJDS. She is also an Editor-in-Chief of The Lion's Tale

Only twelve percent of engineers are female, according to Statistics like this are the reason why it’s not just important to bring more women into STEM fields, but to get them excited about it.

The goal of CoderGals, a national organization founded in 2015, is to start this interest young. CoderGals clubs are all-girl environments so that girls can feel confident with themselves and never feel that they are alone in liking computer science. The clubs are also for students of various grades, which fosters bonds between the girls and contributes to the feeling of a powerful female community.

Our club at CESJDS has two mentors, me and Shira Finke, another junior. Together, we are working to teach the programming language Python to 13 girls in grades 3-5 from the Lower School. Python is a beginner’s language where the commands mimic English, so it is fairly intuitive; for example, writing “print ‘Hello’” prints the word Hello. But, because the girls type out all the commands themselves, it feels a lot more advanced than coding languages that involve dragging boxes with commands in them into the right order.

The CESJDS club is a 10-week 1-hour a week program that has a similar structure each session. It begins with a lesson about a female scientist, such as Marie Curie or Hedy Lamarr, and we watch a short educational video about her. Then we recap the previous lesson with challenge activities for the girls, or sometimes just move directly into a new topic.

The way we teach new topics is by giving a short explanation with a slideshow, followed by a demonstration program. After we are finished with the demonstration, each girl works on either a challenge activity we suggest or one that they came up with on their own.  This normally takes the rest of the hour.

The girls are mostly independent and will ask each other for help if one of them has figured out a part of the program that another one hasn’t. Along with that, Shira and I walk around to answer any questions and provide a little assistance, but we really try to emphasize working through the programs by themselves.

Throughout this spring, I have seen the girls grow to try more programs on their own and develop their own understanding of how the programs work. Their creativity constantly astounds me, and they each come up with unique ways to enhance the programs and the lesson.

I have also watched their confidence grow. The questions I am asked now, as opposed to at the start of the program, are for smaller issues where they have most of the program finished and just a syntax issue is preventing it from working, as opposed to them having nothing on their screens. And when they are unsure of where to begin, just helping them with the first step is usually enough to jumpstart the process and get them going. Now, they’re also more willing to fail. If they get an error, they are not afraid to ask how to fix it, as opposed to trying to erase their work and start from the beginning, and even better, they are starting to recognize what the errors mean and how to fix them themselves.

Every week, it excites me to be able to be a part of the process of increasing their enthusiasm for computer science and STEM. More than encouraging girls to code, the goal of CoderGals is to help them gain the understanding that it is possible and they are more than capable of succeeding. I hope that in our few short weeks, we’ve been able to make that message clear.