Guest post by Grace Su, Carnegie Mellon AI4ALL ’18
AI4ALL Editor’s note: Meet Grace Su, a 2018 CMU AI4ALL alumna and current high school student. In this blog post, she shares her experience with teaching girls app development at a two week long summer program she developed called Girls’ APPspirations. Read on to learn more about how the summer program went, the different apps that were developed, and what the students learned.
This summer, Cindy and I led a free two-week summer program, Girls’ APPspirations at a library near our home in Minnesota. We taught 24 girls from grade 4 through 8 Android app development with a strong focus on teaching essential basic programming concepts, introducing the Android app development approach, and helping students master nearly all features of MIT App Inventor.
In order to implement Girls’ APPspirations, I received a $3,300 program grant from the NCWIT AspireIT outreach initiative. At first, there were very few girls who registered, but I persisted in my recruiting efforts. I even walked three hours in my local city parade at the height of summer to distribute program flyers soon after I returned home from the CMU AI4ALL program.
In the end, 24 students of various backgrounds and neighborhoods attended Girls’ APPspirations on the first day.
We taught students fundamental programming concepts using MIT App Inventor. To demonstrate the power of programming, we brought in 2 Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots for students to control with the app they programmed, Lego Tilt-to-Drive.
Besides leading app coding walkthroughs, we also introduced students to the Congressional App Challenge and Technovation Challenge as opportunities to help improve the world while also challenging themselves. The camp concluded with a group project where each group of girls produced a completely student-developed app that addressed social issues they were interested in, such as language barriers, unemployment, anxiety, and low rates of volunteering and donation.
At the end of the camp, we invited a female guest speaker who talked to the girls about how she arrived at her job as a senior big data developer. Students then showcased their apps, earned gift card prizes, received program certificates, and got a list of helpful educational websites to continue programming after the camp. Students and parents gave feedback saying the girls were really engaged and enjoyed learning programming through developing their own apps.
Not only did students gain app development skills through my program, but I also gained invaluable lessons in leadership, negotiation, and adaptability. I discovered that despite the multiple complexities involved in planning a technology outreach program, I could successfully overcome them through effective collaboration.
As a young girl, I did not have the chance to understand the opportunities the technology field has to offer, so it was significant for me to be able to bring this experience to other girls. The program was my own way of giving back to my community while encouraging my students to do the same.
I believe that we have so much potential, through the use of technology, to change the world. Helping other young students see that for themselves was an extremely meaningful experience.
Even though I faced a few setbacks in making Girls’ APPspirations happen, perseverance made it a reality. It was worth the efforts to help even a few more girls get interested in technology.
Inspired by my challenging but worthwhile experience creating Girls’ APPspirations, I started the Girls App Development & AI club at my high school, applied for and received a $1,000 club grant from AI4ALL, and recruited 12 students. Girls in my school do not have many opportunities to study computing and technology outside of the classroom, so creating the first STEM club for girls at my school means that girls with similar interests can collaborate to develop apps and compete in competitions, helping us understand what working in technology is really like. I am so excited to continue helping female students explore computing and technology!