Running a Summer Tech Workshop for Girls

Summer Camp Girls

This summer my sister and I ran an Alice workshop for middle school girls at a local college. We decided to have it at a college because we believed it would be more exciting for the girls than at a middle school or a high school computer lab. Like most universities, the Guilford College campus is beautiful in the summertime.

After looking at several classroom options, we chose to rent the astronomy computer lab in the science building. It had ten extremely powerful Mac computers, each with its own large work area. It was interesting and inviting, and a nice change of pace from the typical classroom setting. Professor Thom Espinola set up a network for us and loaded the Alice program onto the computers.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves: Alice is a program designed to teach basic programming concepts through 3D modeling and storytelling, developed at Carnegie Mellon and available for free on their website (http://www.alice.org/) in PC and Mac format. I have been programming in it for four years, and Aleis has been working with it for two years. Aleis interned last summer teaching middle school teachers how to implement Alice into their classrooms.

To teach the workshop, Aleis and I selected a textbook and created a syllabus for the class. On the first day, when our students absorbed a day's worth of material in the first half hour of class, we realized we might have to revise our schedule. The girls picked up on the lessons incredibly quickly and we covered all of the programming topics in the book by the end of the first week.

During the second week, the girls worked on final projects that would be presented to their parents and a couple of guest speakers on the final day. They incorporated several of the topics they had learned throughout the course, such as events, loops, if/else statements, variables, lists, and objects. Natascha, age 13, developed a space fantasy rescue game. Kenzie, age 11, designed an extremely interactive town exploration game. Jasmine, age 11, created a medieval fairy tale with a twist. Tiana, age 12, programmed a zombie apocalypse game. We were amazed at the creativity and skill level demonstrated by all of their projects.

On the final day, the girls' families came to watch their presentations. Dr. Xia Zhao, a representative for NCWIT, gave a presentation about women in technology and presented each girl with a Computer Engineer Barbie. Dean Aaron Fetrow, the Vice President of Student Affairs at Guilford, invited the girls to consider the school.

On a personal level, we both really enjoyed teaching the Alice workshop and plan to hold more workshops next year. For more information, please visit our website: http://programming4girls.com/

 

Aleis M. is a winner of the NCWIT North Carolina Affiliate Award for Aspirations in Computing and a student at Duke University. Her sister Dana is a senior in high school.