Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Computing Projects for Girls

This is a big topic on my mind of late. There is some discussion of this in the comments on my Boring Projects post and well as some responses via Twitter. Joanne Cohoon left a comment on the post suggesting health related projects like Body Mass Indicator (BMI) might appeal to girls. She added “helping people” via Twitter with a recommendation for the DotDiva website for ideas. It’s at not .com. I think that was a typo in the tweet.


Today I visited my wife’s 8th grade class to show them how to use Kodu to create/program their own games. One of the first questions from a girl was “can we use it to tell stories?” From a boy I got “can we make things fight?” Sigh Yes boys and girls do seem to be a bit different from each other. Middle school is when, in my experience, they are most different. Though of course there is a spectrum among both boys and girls so we do have to be very careful about pigeon holing anyone. It’s a fine line to walk at times.

I talked to a professor at Bryn Mawr where they use robots to introduce programming to college women and asked about that. He told me that his students do like robots. They like different kinds of robots than men do though. I saw younger girls making robots and a summer program at the University of Lowell some years ago. These robots were cute and cuddly and totally unlike the “fighting robots” a lot of boys seem to like to build.

The same is true of games. Girls like games. The largest demographic group playing online games is middle aged women. They just like different games than men/boys. This is something we have to take into account when designing game related projects to attract more girls (and some boys who are not “in to” the violent first person shooters we have come to associate with boys).

As someone who has never been a girl and who hasn’t raised a daughter I struggle with trying to design projects for girls. I think that more people in education (men and women) are working hard to make the environment more comfortable and even attractive to women. But I think many textbooks are still using the old projects.

That is something we (well I for sure) need to work on. I wish there were an organized effort to collect projects that work for girls/women. Not so much that they are designed for women to the extent of pushing males away but as an effort to find enough different projects that we can supply relevant, educational projects that are inclusive and provide a context that more people can feel comfortable with.


Laura Blankenship said...

Alfred, this is indeed a challenge. I'm going to blog about this in more detail later today, but my virtual pet project is a huge success.with the girls. I tend to let girls choose their projects, making several suggestions. I gave them the option of doing several things, including some "boring" things like creating a students registration program. I'm sometimes surprised, though. They don't always like what I think they're going to.

Doug Blank said...

Excellent post, Alfred! When we first tried robots in the introductory classes at Bryn Mawr College, we weren't sure how this would go over with our students. But it did work well. The robots, software, and materials were carefully crafted to be accessible and free of embedded biases. Of course, not all boys are the same, and not all girls are the same, but if one aims to make educational materials attractive to the spectrum of interests, that is half the battle.

Also, the problem of making robots and games more interesting to women (and other underrepresented groups) will solve itself---once we have more a more diverse group of people making robots and games.

-Doug, more at

TechKim said...

Alfred, thanks for caring about this and posting! I have been collecting tech creations by girls @, so that could be one resource for showing the type of projects that girls might be interested in. I also hope it provides inspiration to educators and girls that tech is not boring!

Garth said...

This is an odd year for us, of the 20 kids in Programming I and II there is only one girl. Last year in my Programming I class of 10 there were 4 girls. None of them took PII due to scheduling and interest. I have had girls in PII and PIII. The girl I had in PIII last year was smarter and a better programmer (at my level which is not too high) that I was by a long shot. Since my programming assignments are very generic (write a program that uses these features or looks sort of like this) the different personalities have the flexibility to do their own thing. The girls have a tendency to make things that are a bit more aesthetic while the boys make things that blow up. If the assignment direction is broad enough then neither personality type gets too bored.

Dave said...

I suspect girls and women might be drawn to projects with a cooperative aspect, like a robotics project where a group PhD individuals have to work together to achieve a goal. Men would also probably enjoy it, and for younger boys you could add a team-sports twist to keep it engaging.