Friday, November 30, 2018

Five Ways to Get Girls Thinking Like a Programmer

Did you know? According to the Girl Scout Research Institute’s Generation STEM report, 74 percent of teen girls are interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but their interest fades as they move through middle and high school. A large part of this decreased interest is because girls aren’t exposed to STEM in ways that speak to them and inspire their career ambitions.

Girl Scouts of the USA and Raytheon are setting out to change that permanently by giving girls in grades 6–12 more opportunities to get inspired and stay inspired—especially when it comes to cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, robotics, and data science!

But you don’t have to become a programmer or a robotics engineer to learn the value of thinking like one. Essentially, thinking like a programmer is about finding more effective and efficient ways to solve problems. It’s also about not being afraid to fail.

Here are a few key ways to think like a STEM professional that you can teach every G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ in your life:

1. Don’t be afraid to test things out and learn from your mistakes.
New and unsolved problems are often pretty intimidating. If we want to have any chance of making something creative, useful, and clever, then we need to be willing to work on problems and accept the fact that mistakes naturally happen along the way. Mistakes are a part of programmers’ lives too, because they’re responsible for coming up with creative ways to solve problems by testing different frameworks (paths that may lead to possible solutions). Programmers are more curious about bugs (errors) than irritated by them, and that kind of attitude is critically important!

2. Learn to break big problems into manageable chunks. 
The ability to break down large, complex problems is incredibly valuable. Encourage girls to keep trying if their first few approaches to solving a problem don’t work. Ask them how they might separate the problem into smaller subproblems and address those first. And be sure to remind them that this skill transfers over into their daily lives as well. For example, when working on a school project, she may want to break it down to smaller subtasks, such as key dates and deliverables, team members’ roles, and a list of resources to use. She will then need to work on tackling each of the smaller tasks to eventually complete her larger project.

3. Ask for help!
Reinforce to girls that asking for help is perfectly acceptable and often leads to solving problems more efficiently. In fact, programmers frequently brainstorm solutions and ideas together. By engaging girls in collaboration to find answers, you'll encourage cooperative learning and help them lead the conversation. It’s a win-win!

4. Learn the basics.
“Coding is incredibly important for our next generation,” says Rebecca Rhoads, president of Raytheon’s Global Businesses Services and a Girl Scout alum. “It’s something they’ll need exposure to no matter the career.” Understanding more about computer science and coding will give your girls a competitive edge early on, regardless of which field they choose. It’s perfectly OK to begin with the basics: first, talk about a computer’s input, storage, processing, and output. Feel free to use a sample video resource to get started. You don’t have to be a computer science expert to introduce girls to some of the basic concepts and facilitate the conversation. And when you’re ready, learn more about our Think Like a Programmer Journeys!

5. Inspire girls with strong female role models.
Team up with a local tech or STEM company, and invite one of its female members to your next troop meeting. Encourage the speaker to share different aspects of her job and how she makes a difference in the world through her work. You can also have girls research notable women in STEM and discuss the leaders who inspire girls most.

Finally, don’t forget to give yourself props after you’ve walked girls through the different ways they can think like a STEM professional—after all, by breaking it all down for them in simpler pieces, you’ve been emulating a programmer and practicing what you preach!