3. Encouraging more girls to code starts with their support network

My father always told me I could achieve anything. In fact, he encouraged me to challenge the people who told me I couldn’t be a part of something because I was a woman.

I was the first girl to join the robotics club at school. Although I still had an assorted collection of Barbie dolls growing up, my dad didn’t want to constrict me to gender specific toys. He took me to Home Depot to build things each week. I built a bird house, a book rack, and a lot of other small wooden contraptions that I still have to this day. He encouraged me to play with Legos even though all the Lego meet up attendees were boys. He never let me believe I was less than anyone else in the world. That’s why I always felt unstoppable.

In college I studied computer science. And it wasn’t easy. I had tough times, and my peers who knew me then can probably say that I was stressed out A LOT. Sometimes I didn’t feel like I was as good as my male peers. I was internalizing my learning curve and wondering if I should even be doing this. However, when those tough times set in and I almost thought of quitting, I always thought of what my dad told me:

Be a woman.

The first time I heard this was when I was a child. And it shocked me. Be a woman? Whenever someone said “you fight like a girl” or “you do X like a girl” that was always a sign of weakness. Being like a man was considered strength. But when my dad said “be a woman” he said it emphatically and with utmost confidence. Like that was the most bad ass thing ever. It made me proud to be a woman. It made me feel strong and fantastic. It made me get through the tough times when I felt less than competent in a field overpowered by men.

When men called me pushy I called myself assertive. When they called me aggressive I called myself ambitious. A man is never called “pushy”. He’s always “awesome, assertive, a go-getter.” But women are almost always negatively stereotyped when they show strong qualities. My dad encouraged me to cross the invisible boundaries created by society and not let others get in my way. He always told me to ignore the shit and keep moving forward.

I am where I am today because of my support network. Because I had a family that encouraged me to do it all. And a lot of my female engineer peers at Stanford had strong support networks at home that exposed them to engineering at a young age. I quickly realized the importance of parents in shaping a woman’s confidence and making her feel like she can pursue a career in computer science.

So this week, for 52 Weeks of Design for Women I’ll be designing a coding application that encourages parent child communication, co-learning, and empowers middle school girls to pursue computer science.

How do we get parents involved in their daughter’s education?

According to a Gallup poll, 90% of parents of seventh to 12th graders say that computer science is a good use of resources in their child’s school. In fact, 64% of parents stated that computer science was just as important as courses such as math, history, science, and English. 21% of parents think that computer science is more important than required courses.

So we see that parents value computer science. But how do we take this a step further? How do we get them involved? How can we give them resources to empower their daughters if they don’t know where to start or if schools do not have any computer science courses?

These are the questions that Dottie, this week’s design, attempts to answer.

Principles

Like every week, let’s start with the principles driving this design.

1. Create a fun, relatable environment for young girls (ages 10–13) to learn computer science.

2. Enable child-parent interaction when learning to create a conversation instead of a one-way information input.

3. Give outreach resources and tools to parents and girls who want to know how to expand their knowledge of computer science.

4. Inform parents of their child’s progress and inspire growth

Create a fun, relatable environment for young girls (ages 10–13) to learn computer science

If you look at any programming application or website for kids you almost always end up with something like this:

An example programming class for kids

I noticed that the themes were all topics mainly geared toward young boys. I’m not saying that some girls don’t like zombies and venus fly traps and potatoes, but having a theme that is more relatable to a young girl, or the kid experience in general, might be a good start.

This week I designed an app called Dottie. Dottie is a little dot who goes on many adventures. Sometimes she tries to save her friends, other times she is trying to save the world. Basically, she’s pretty cool.

Start screen for Dottie app for young girls to learn how to code

Dottie has several levels, and through the use of blocks that represent programming language, girls can piece together Dottie’s path so she can get to her final destination. The app has bright, vivid colors, to bring the game and experience to life.

Game play mode: move the blocks on the left onto the workspace on the right. Play your code and see the magic!

Her friends are funky, with their own personalities. If I had more time, I’d definitely animate them and make them do weird things :).

Dottie is designed to create an environment for girls to feel comfortable to learn, with themes they can relate to and have fun with.

Enable child-parent interaction when learning to create a conversation instead of a one-way information input.

Now this is when the parents come in. Dottie helps girls step foot into programming. But how can their support system get involved, learn with them, and cheer them on?

To encourage parents to get involved, I designed a parent-facing version of Dottie called Dottie Family.

Dottie Family start screen: this app is parent facing.

Dottie Family has a lot of features that are helpful to parents. We’ll get to the specifics further down in this post. But the most important feature Dottie Family has is the ability to learn how to code with a child.

In some levels of the game, girls will play and learn independently. However in other levels, girls can play a multi-player game with their parent. It starts with a notification telling the child to poke mom (or whoever the family member is) to play the next level.

You can poke mom to start playing the next level with her.

The next level is then shown. The control is passed to mom, who makes the first move.

It’s mom’s turn! Can she figure out the for loop?

After mom makes the first move, the child plays, and it goes back and forth until the level ends.

It’s your turn (child) to complete the code!

It’s a simple concept, after all it’s just a multi-player game. But it means much more than that. It gets parents involved and learning with their kids. Chances are when parents and kids are playing, they are playing right next to each other and learning together. Getting parents involved helps them be less afraid of computer science which in turn empowers their daughters to learn it. That’s exciting and powerful.

Give outreach resources and tools to parents and girls who want to know how to expand their knowledge of computer science.

Many parents want to help as much as they can, but don’t know where to start. That’s why Dottie Family has a list of local resources to help girls find a community of support for learning and continued growth.

Resources for girls to find support communities to help them on their learning journey.

It’s often hard to find everything in one place and Dottie Family provides that. It would also be interesting to add in local programming events and meet-ups.

Inform parents of their child’s progress and inspire growth

Dottie Family also lets parents see their child’s progress. They can see how much of a particular course their child has completed, where the child ranks on the bell curve, and other courses/supplementary material she can use to grow her learning from her current level.

Informing parents of their child’s progress and other course their child can take to grow learning.

This is important since it caters to different learning styles. Having supplementary modules and levels to help girls master a concept will help with the continued growth of working on specific concepts that are difficult for some while moving more quickly through concepts that are more easily mastered.

A lot of girls don’t think computer science is right for them

In a 2014 study by Gallup and Google, only 18% of female students grades 7–12 were very likely to learn computer science compared t0 35% of male students. This is due to many reasons:

  • Students, parents, and teachers believe that boys are overall more interested in computer science
  • Students, parents, and teachers believe boys are more successful in learning computer science.
  • Fewer female students believe they will learn computer science in the future.

From the get go, our society believes that girls can’t do it. And this is not okay. Something needs to change here. Girls are born thinking that programming is not for them, or if they try it they won’t be good at it. Let’s get families involved and invested in teaching their daughters how to code. Let’s make this a movement. I want every girl to hold their head up high and not be afraid of stepping foot in a world that many believe is for men. I want them to say “be a woman” during moments of weakness instead of “I can’t do this anymore” or “I’m not as good as he is.”

“The power you have is to be the best version of yourself you can be, so you can create a better world.” ~ Ashley Rickards

Let’s empower girls to be the best versions of themselves and show them that they can make the world a better place. And nobody can get in their way.

“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” ~ Ayn Rand

This is part 3 of a year long series on design that improves the lives of women.Follow 52 Weeks of Design for Women to stay updated.