As the advisor of the Walnut Code Club, Walnut Elementary Education Center third grade teacher Irene Hales said that she knows boys dominate computer programming.
“I found out with the first club that if I waited until the students were in sixth grade, very few girls wanted in,” said Hales. “However, with the fourth grade club, there was an equal interest and the girls were very, very good.”
Hales said that when she taught coding to the third graders, she discovered that girls passed the course in higher percentages and exceeded in different ways. This included working together well, having different interests and staying on task until they completed their assignment in creative ways.
“If we are going to need computer programmers in lots of different fields, we are going to need the girls,” said Hales, “and we have to get them when they are young.”
According to Girls Who Code, which is a national nonprofit organization that is working to close the gender gap in technology and engineering sectors, only 18 percent of computer science graduates are women and only 0.4 percent of high school-aged girls express an interest in majoring in computer science.
Walnut Elementary Principal Mark Holmes said that Hales has made sure that girls at the school are just as involved in Walnut Code Club as boys. Of the impressive amount of girls who are a part of the club today is fourth grader Ella Malak-Ismail, who joined because she liked playing computer games and wondered how they were made.
“I wanted to learn how to animate and how to code,” said Malak-Ismail.
Although she said that there is a lot of coding that goes into one project, Malak-Ismail said she thoroughly enjoys the club. She said that she also believes it is important to have the Walnut Code Club, especially because not a lot of schools offer one like it.
“Without computer science we wouldn’t have the internet,” said Malak-Ismail. “This is great for people who want to learn this to get a job. This gives them an early start.”
Boys at Walnut Elementary are also just as invested in the club, including fourth grader John Sylvester who said he joined to help advance his knowledge in coding in order to help himself out in the future. Fourth grader Mikel Gordon said that he also has an interest in pursuing a computer science degree in college.
“I like everything,” said Gordon. “My favorite part is making the characters move. I find it to be easy.”
Hales said that Walnut Elementary made the decision to begin offering the club last year after the school recognized the need to teach computer programing and coding to students as early as possible. She said that opportunities for computer science graduates are continuously expanding at twice the national rate of other jobs.
“By 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be one million more computer science jobs than graduating students qualified for them,” said Hales. “Turlock needs to attract industry and we in education want to help them by giving our students the skills they need for tomorrow’s jobs.”
Hales said that the club uses Google CSFirst, which is a free program that increases student access and exposure of computer science education. With CSFirst, students learn how to use SCRATCH, which is a program that allows them to create their own interactive stories, games and animations.
“SCRATCH is given free from MIT and it was invented to teach their freshmen how to code,” said Hales.
The club meets every Thursday in Hales’ classroom for one hour, although Hales said that it is “very difficult to get the students to quit coding once they get started.”
To view projects created by Walnut Code Club members, visit scratch.mit.edu/studios/1600706/