Friday, 19 July 2013

Tips for Setting up a Coding Club for Girls

In the new academic year you may be thinking about setting up a computing or maker style club at your school. You may be a student, a teacher, a parent or a volunteer. It's not always easy to attract girls to such a club, and I have many teachers emailing me and tweeting me asking for advice on getting more girls into their clubs. Here are my tips, some might work in your area better than others, and just because you implement them all does not mean your club intake will improve overnight. This is a long process, so you need to be committed for some time!

1. Branding

Do not call your club 'ICT Club' or 'Computing Club' as many students that you want to attract will think it's just another ICT lesson, and however fantastic your lessons are, and how much they enjoy them, the general question on all children's minds is, 'why do more class work?'. It has to be fresh, fund sounding, and different.

Code Club and Coder Dojo have had wonderful success. I think branding is part of this success (role models and good activities being the other parts) If you are running an inclusive club for all children then using gender neutral colours with a good name are important. If you are running a club specifically for girls I would avoid using too many pinks. (pot, kettle, black, I know) Something with a slick logo that could be put onto stickers would attract teenagers as they will think it is something a bit special for them, rather than just an ICT club to finish class work or homework.

2. Role Models

I can not emphasize enough the importance of good female role models in Computing and STEM full stop. If you want to attract girls to a club getting outside help is a good idea. I've met many people in industry who want to know how they can help schools with coding. Reaching out to this community would be a really good idea. Organisations like STEMettes, Science Grrl, CAS #include, Code Club and Coder Dojo might be the first step. Get them to come into lessons to help promote the club as well as help with the club activities themselves.

Role models can also come in the form of other students. If you have KS5 or KS4 girls who enjoy the subject who could help your club then snap them up quick. They can attend assemblies to drum up interest. If girls see other girls enjoying it, then they are more likely to want to have a go too. Perhaps there is a nearby college or university with students who could also offer expertise, advice and act as role models. I have a number of video interviews on my channel here to help inspire.

3. Gender Neutral Activities Vs. Gender Specific Activities

If you want to run a coding club for everyone I would highly recommend having projects and activities that are gender neutral. Girls will attend coding clubs where there are more boys if the activities are creative, imaginative and fun. I've attended Coder Dojo's where there were a large group of girls who were engaged on a Saturday morning. I asked the organiser and he said they made sure that all their project ideas were not gender specific. They never highlighted the fact that there were less girls. They had different projects all the time.

If on the other hand you want to run a club specifically for girls then there are more gender specific activities that might help engage the students.One of the big hitters in this group is e-textiles. It will involve some investment in LilyPad's or Floras but they could be reused, or crowd funded.

I am in the process of creating an e-textiles activity kit for clubs that will be a free download. As soon as it is complete I will link to it from here, so stay tuned! All the parts can be purchased from skpang in the UK and I'm hoping he will put the kit together when finished. They can also be bought from Adafruit in the US and other good electronic suppliers.

Other creative coding can include using Scratch to make animations or games. At #define a workshop event CAS #include ran in June, the most popular activity was the maKey maKey session. So much so that I've invested in getting five maKey maKey's for KS3 at my school. You could get kids to make weird controllers for any scratch games they make. I made a video on creating a soundboard in scratch which is activated with a maKey maKey:

Other activities I've seen at clubs include, making music on a Raspberry Pi using code called Sonic Pi, creating fireworks across a screen using code, and using Minecraft API on Raspberry Pi to make mini games inside Minecraft.

David Whale runs many successful clubs and blogs about them here. has lots of project ideas on his website especially raspberry pi tutorials. He also runs a club at a primary school.

4. Make it fun!

this is your opportunity to escape a programme of study! Do something cool, wizz bang, hands on, awesome. Short, easily achievable, creative tasks that take maybe a few weeks to complete are key. When I ran a girls only club, we even had a fashion show one week of all the projects. They LOVED it.

5. Scheduling 

Under no circumstances should you have this club at the same time as Netball, Rounders, Hockey, Choir, Orchestra or any other group practice. This is difficult, I know, but these will always take priority at your school, and fair play, PE teachers and Music teachers give up all their time to run these, so let's support them. If you have outside people coming in to help run your clubs, then you could be confined to when they are able to come.

So what are you waiting for? Go get the coolest club for kids up and running successfully at your school!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

London Mini Maker Faire 6th July 2013

Today I attended my first Maker Faire, at Elephant & Castle, London. For the uninitiated this is the greatest show and tell experience for children (read: adults) of the maker revolution. Everything from knitting and textiles to electronics and 3D printing all in one place set out like a school fete.

I expected there to be lots of stand, which there were, with companies selling their wares, but what really surprised me was the large number of interactive learning experiences on offer from vendors and from the event itself.

My favourite interactive experience of the day, was standing in a mock photographic studio, jumping up and down screaming at a camera in order for it to trigger the camera to take my photo. As you can see the result was... interesting! Thanks to @Triggertrap and their @Screamgrab camera. See more of their pictures here.

Another stand allowed me to write a secret message on a card and then use thermal paint of some description to screen print over the top. This meant that when cold the message was hidden, but as soon as you touched the paint with a source of heat, like your hand, the message was revealed. Thanks to @UCAPrintArea for the experience.

There were also a number of twitter interactive experiences. I had a robot @rbeetlelabs tweet me my fortune and a laser display my name when I tweeted it to #belshazzar (give it a go, it might still be displaying somewhere!)

One display by Blink Stick had a QR code that when scanned took you to a webpage that allowed you to select any colour, which in turn changed the colour of the lights on the stand. Of course once I was on that page, I was changing it all day long :) (sorry guys if it was annoying!) 

One of the most impressive things about Maker Faire is the large number of volunteers running workshops like 'Learn how to solder'. I bought a robot LED badge kit for £2 and started to solder the circuit  Sadly, the iron was far too hot and the solder was a bit rubbish so I got frustrated and decided to take it home and solder it later. I think for first timers it might be a little frustrating but then I guess they do not know any different. For me it was too annoying to sit there trying to do, but kudos to those guys giving up their time to run it and teach people. There were other workshops that were completely sold out on using blender, scratch and maKey maKey. 

If you have never been to a maker faire, I thoroughly recommend you get along to one. It is fun for the whole family. I don't think I've ever seen so many young people having fun and learning new skills all for free, nor so many teenage girls. I was stopped by a man with his daughters as I walked around who remembered me as 'that geek girl' and they seemed really interested in my experiences of the day. I hope they had fun. 

Video log of the day to come...