Girls can code too. So why does there continue to be a gender gap when it comes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers? Let’s change that!
From the NYTimes.com:
WHEN I was 7 years old, I knew the capitals of most major countries and their currencies. I had to, if I wanted to track down a devious criminal mastermind in the computer game “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” On screen, the ACME Detective Agency would spit out clues like notable landmarks to help players identify the city where Carmen’s globe-trotting henchmen were hiding out. I wouldn’t learn how to pronounce Reykjavik for more than a decade, but I could tell you that its currency was called the krona.I was the child of Indian immigrants, and like any begrudging Bengal tiger cub, I penciled in fill-in-the-blank maps and memorized multiplication tables after dinner. I was much more motivated to learn about geography by chasing Carmen Sandiego on the family Macintosh Plus. I couldn’t confidently point to Iceland on a map. But I did become a technology reporter.
Natalie Rusk is a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab who helped develop Scratch, an open-source programming platform where kids can code games and animation and then share projects and how-to tips. She thinks the next two years will determine whether coding can start to close the gender gap. “One of the key reasons to broaden participation is to get more diversity of who is designing these technologies,” she said. “It’s being presented as, ‘Learn how to program,’ ” she said, “but not, ‘What do you want to program? What’s your idea?’ ”
So what if, instead of trying to guess at what might get girls interested in technology, we looked at what’s already on their screens? While parents often worry about recreational “screen time,” some educators now believe that gaming could be a way to get girls interested in coding, and even to increase the numbers of girls in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — classes and schools. Reshma Saujani, founder of the nonprofit organization Girls Who Code, said, “We have to meet them where they are.”
“Students kept walking in asking to learn how to code wearing Minecraft T-shirts,’” said Stephen Foster, a founder of the San Diego-based organization ThoughtSTEM, which teaches kids ages 8 to 18 to code in after-school programs and summer camps. “Once it happened the 20th time, we started to realize, ‘Oh, hey, maybe these kids know something that we don’t.’ ”
Minecraft, from the Swedish game developer Mojang, looks like a 3-D fairy tale that was cranked through the Matrix and came out rendered in blocks. Players can use modifications or “mods” written in Java and can build mods of their own design. You can play in “survival” mode — battling “creepers” and zombies — or “creative” mode, in which you build anything from a house to a village to a fantasy world. The latter seems to be especially appealing to girls.
Code.org, despite millions in funding and a push from President Obama, is not yet mainstream. Minecraft, however, is. Lady Gaga released a Minecraft-themed music video in March and “The Simpsons” riffed on the game in the credits of an episode in April. Minecraft has 100 million registered users; spend any time around elementary- and middle-school kids and you’ll see that it has cornered the market.
“We’re happy about the Minecraft phenomenon because it is just about creating,” said Dr. Rusk of M.I.T. “First it seemed like it was mostly boys, but now a lot of girls are getting engaged in Minecraft.”
A hundred students were on ThoughtSTEM’s waiting list for its first Minecraft class two months ago. “I would say that the girls are actually outperforming the boys, at least in my class,” Mr. Foster said. “And it’s very good to see, because as computer scientists, we definitely recognize that there’s a big gender disparity in our field.” He added, “There are just so many girls who play Minecraft who, as far as I’m concerned, are all people who can be swayed to pursue coding — they just don’t realize it yet.”