Microsoft partners with IGNITE Worldwide to teach 54 High School girls how to code with Microsoft Small Basic


How's that for a blog title?

Microsoft Small Basic is partnering with IGNITE Worldwide to run workshops that teach girls to code! In 6 workshops (from February to May), we'll teach 414 girls to code! Coupled together with Microsoft DigiGirlz and local Girls Who Code efforts, in the next four years, we expect to see a large increase in women from Washington who pursue technology careers.

You can also find information about our first workshop of the 6 in this series on the IGNITE Worldwide blog:

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This is Holly and Sweety at the front (Holly taught, and Sweety hosted for us and helped put it together):

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Mission Accomplished! On February 23rd, Microsoft hosted 54 high school girls and 6 teachers from the Federal Way school district! About 15 or so minutes into the workshop, all 54 girls (and many teachers) were programming with confidence! (Big thanks to our teacher, Holly and co-teacher, Kristi, for running point, and to all 45 of the Microsoft volunteers for setting up the machines, coaching the girls, setting up lunch, putting together the goodie bags, and chatting with the girls during lunch! Especially big thanks go to Sweety, Liz, and Holly on logistics.)

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I overheard one teacher who was surprised that the girls were all learning actual text-based programming so quickly and so well! They couldn't believe it. Many girls think coding is impossible. It's too hard and complicated (right now, only 4% of college freshmen women are taking programming classes). The truth is, after you try to get girls to enroll in a computer science class, and it doesn't happen, you get discouraged. It even begins to seem impossible. But, working together with IGNITE and the teachers, we pulled it off without a second thought. We have the right software (Small Basic is a language and IDE built explicitly for this purpose), the right teachers, the right support, the right content, we created the right environment in the room… it is the right everything. The girls learn actual text-based coding (no tiles and no blocks) as if they're learning how to text message for the first time. It's smooth, easy, and fun. All 54 girls experienced that. So you can understand the teacher's surprise that in 15 short minutes, the girls are on their own, coding their own programs.

Sweety helped host and run the event:

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Did you know that in 1984, 37% of computer science graduates were women? Now, that number is only 18%. In 2020, there will be 1.4 million new jobs in computing related fields in the United States. US college graduates will only be able to fill 29% of those jobs (lame)! And what about women? A paltry 3% will go to women college graduates. Right now, 66% of girls age 6-12 are enrolled or interested in computing classes/programs. And it's only 32% of girls age 13-17. And for women who are a college freshman? A miniscule 4%. People are wondering what's happening. I talk to over 250 Middle School and High School students a year. I ask them what they're learning and how hard it is. As it turns out, Java and JavaScript is what they're learning, and it's excruciatingly hard, even more so for girls (not sure why, but that's how the answers go). It kind of makes sense. Java wasn't made for kids or teenagers. It was made for adults.

The girls are listening to Holly's instructions at the event:

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Overall, there are several reasons why we have that sharp decline from 66% of 6-year-old girls who want to code, which dips down to 4% of college women who want to code:

  1. The Girls Don't Know How Complicated Coding Is. What do you think they're going to say if you ask six-year-old girls if they want to do something awesome that gives them the most power in their career, the most influence in our society (as an average, across all disciplines), and the most money (easily 46% more; sometimes 100-200% more, once a career gets momentum)? They say, "Heck Yes!" And then you start showing them how complicated it is. And they see older girls giving up on it. And they see how isolated and antisocial it is. They get discouraged. Meanwhile, they start to want to change the world. They see all the social issues in the world. So they lean toward social sciences to help out at non-profits and global-awareness organizations. That sounds fantastic. But it results in 5 times more college graduates with social science degrees than the positions open to provide them jobs. And that sends many of them to work at restaurants and stores. They missed the opportunity to make a lot more money and have a bigger impact on all those social issues that they want to help with.!!!! This is easy to solve. Just transition them to learn Small Basic before they learn that coding is too hard and complicated for them to do (which it isn't, but that's what we're teaching them). At this event, we partnered with IGNITE Worldwide, and there wasn't a single thought with these 54 girls that programming is too complicated (or impossible). It was easy and fun, so if the thought of anything being too complicated entered their minds, it lasted mere seconds.
  2. We Don't Ease Them Into Actual Coding. So coding is hard and complicated. We know that. We (our society) try to sweeten the deal with Tile and Block-based coding. The young students plug in and enjoy it. But the hardest thing is yet to come. In order to learn to code, they have to learn text-based coding. The rest is just teaching concepts of coding. It's not actual coding they could use professionally. We give them this easy block-based coding, where they do fun things like get Moana to sail her boat, or Elsa to ice skate, or Alex (from Minecraft) to walk to some pigs. Then we make a colossal leap and present them with Java, a language built for 30-year-olds. I talk to many girls every year who are barely hanging on in their High School Java classes. Most of their friends already left it (or walked away from the opportunity). The girls I talk to are right on the verge of leaving it. Why do we think this is a good idea? Maybe we shouldn't do that. Maybe we should introduce them to Small Basic instead (the only text-based language + IDE that is built for them). If they're 8 or older, they'll learn it just like they learn Scratch (they'll have fun with it). That's what happened in our workshop. That's what would happen with any students. Only, the big difference is that Small Basic is an actual, professional style of programming (syntax-based programming). What? That's impossible! How does Small Basic do that?!!
    1. First, it's Simple. It's imperative, there are just 14 keywords, IntelliSense was redesigned to be a fun wheel, and IntelliSense and the Help pane teach them while they code. Here are 15 ways we made it simple.
    2. Second, it's Social. We're talking about girls here! As I mentioned in #1 (The Girls Don't Know How Complicated Coding Is), it's not just that coding seems hard and complicated. Coding also seems isolated and antisocial. Smart teachers are combatting that. In our Small Basic workshops, we often team up girls in groups of two. They sit with their friends. And we put them in a girls-only workshop and give them coaches to chat with. All those things help in the teaching process. But it's not enough (not remotely). We need the tools themselves to be social. That's where Small Basic also shines! You can collaborate on coding, easily share it, and plug into social, community challenges and competitions! When a student has a question, a teacher can bring up the girl's program on the projector and work through the problem, collaboratively, as a class! In workshops, I've asked the students if they want to share their programs. Then I bring them up on the projector to share them to the class. Read about how Small Basic is social.
    3. Third, it's Fun. Why do you think those 6-year olds are willing to try Scratch Jr., Lego Mindstorms, and Kodu (tile-based coding)? Or Moana, Frozen, or Minecraft on Code.org (block-based)? It's fun! Some folks have tried to make Java and JavaScript simple and fun. But it's still a language that wasn't made for kids. Small Basic brings the fun! The truth is, a lot of the things that make it Simple are also fun (like the IntelliSense wheel and the simple interface with big buttons). The things that make it Social make it fun (collaborating on coding, sharing coding, and engaging with the community). But we also toss in a few things to make it even more fun (like Lego Mindstorms, Kinect body-motion programming, Flickr image programming, Turtle graphics, and the Turtle mascots). See some of the ways we're making Small Basic fun!
    4. Fourth, it's Extendable. You might think it's too simplified. But that's by design so that it's easy and fun to learn. And then you can make it even more fun, by learning how to program your Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots with actual text-based code. (Lego Mindstorms uses tile-based coding, which is solidly conceptual. Small Basic's EV3 extension teaches actual text-based programming on your robots, it's the only option that's truly free for that (with no ads), and it gives you an incredible amount of power. See Lego Mindstorms EV3 extension for Small Basic - EV3 Basic!!! for 24 ways that the extension lets you do even more, including creating an associated game or software application to control your robots, tying in computer sounds, Bluetooth & Wi-Fi support, Ease In & Out, Synchronized Wheels, Color Sensor, faster robots, and more.) Add to that the ability to work with Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Oculus Rift, 3D Graphics, and full Physics Engine (plus a lot more). Small Basic didn't have to be extendable to give you the great learning experience, but this way it's the gift that keeps on giving! Anyone can add an extension to the community and make Small Basic even more extensive! Read how Small Basic is extendable.
    5. Fifth, it's Gradual. Small Basic is the only language + IDEs that graduates you into a free IDE (Visual Studio Code or Visual Studio Community) where you can keep learning professional programming, including languages like Visual Basic, JavaScript, Java, C#, Python, Ruby, C++, and more! Learn more about how Small Basic is gradual.
  3. It's a Timing/Generation Thing. If we check this data in 12 years, the numbers will be better. After all, when those 6-year-olds hit college, more of them will learn coding. Whaaat? If that's the case, then we have to be doing something differently right now than we did 12 years ago. Big time. Scratch, Code.org, Small Basic, Kodu, Touch Develop, DigiGirlz, IGNITE Worldwide, Girls Who Code, and so on... there are a lot of swell efforts that are bigger now than they were 12 years ago. But, I'm marking this as the #3 reason for the stats. Because I think #1 and #2 are the bigger reasons. This is only going to push the needle a bit. We're doing a lot now, but we're only scratching the surface (kind of like using Scratch on a Microsoft Surface--sorry; couldn't resist). We're also creating a new problem: We're teaching conceptual coding (tile and block-based) and all our efforts are tied up there. That's why Small Basic focuses on actual text-based/syntax-based coding. And that's why Small Basic graduates you into the free Visual Studio Code or Visual Studio Community, to learn more languages.  It's the professional stuff that will get you a job.

The girls had a chance to program on their own:

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So guess who Small Basic was made for? Kids, teenagers, students, and learners of all ages, starting at age 8! That's why it works. That's why the girls in our workshops are learning text-based coding in a matter of minutes. They find it fun and easy. It's that simple. Why is it so fun and easy? We're getting off topic, so please go read The Unique Features of Microsoft Small Basic. Now I'm getting off the old soap-box...

Here, the high school girls watch Holly enter the code, and they learn what it does:

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The girls had a blast chatting with the Microsoft ladies during the Table Discussion Time. They enjoyed the pizza. They were glued during the Panel (big thanks to our Microsoft panel ladies, Cindy, Chantel, Kristi, Jessica, Jenn, Mei-Chin, and Vazjier) to the fantastic answers and stories. (We kept it going for every minute that we could, and it would have lasted another hour with all the unasked questions they had!) And we ended with a bang, where they picked up a Goodie Bag: an Azure hacky sack, SQL Server shoelaces, a .NET robot toy and other swag, Microsoft pen, Microsoft notebook, candy, an encouraging notecard hand-written by our volunteers, and a Code Challenges handout so they can learn to code at home! And after the Goodie Bag, they picked up an Azure T-shirt! Huge thanks to our coordinators Holly, Sweety, Liz, Kristi, and Jessica, and to our Microsoft sponsors, including Small BasicMicrosoft women's organizationsVisual Studio, SQL Server, Azure, and Microsoft LifeCam!

The high school girls, coding with Small Basic (they're creating fireworks with turtle graphics):

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Here's a game of where's Waldo: Where am I in the above photo?

The girls learned to code, ate pizza, talked to encouraging women, engaged passionately with the panel, and got some awesome gifts from Microsoft. The girls left beaming, and all 45 Microsoft volunteers were excited to meet them!

Here is Holly, our instructor (you can see a few of our volunteers helping the students):

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Another game of where's Waldo: Where am I in this photo above? You can also find Sweety and Kristi (who taught our Tetris demo).

Schools who attend IGNITE Worldwide events (and especially Small Basic coding workshops) often end up with girls making up upwards of 60% of the students in CS classes.

Holly and Liz are up front (Liz is on the left; she helped a ton with the logistics):

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It was great to watch the room full of girls as they are first learning to code. You know, when their code does that thing they have been trying to do or when they try something different or new and see the results. At the end of the class, we got to see some of the girls' creations. Many of the girls thanked our volunteers at Microsoft for showing them that coding wasn't that hard. For several of these young ladies, it was their first time coding, especially real, text-based coding, as opposed to tile-based or block-based coding. The girls were excited that they had created their own shapes and picture of fireworks on the screen, using Small Basic's turtle graphics. For many of the students, their eyes had been opened to new possibilities. For us, those moments were priceless.

More of our volunteers in the background, spread out and ready to help (that's Liz, in the background on the left side):

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You can see the impact in the girls’ lives, by watching this video below, which features our previous Small Basic workshops from 2016 and 2015:

IGNITE Worldwide: Inspiring girls to become future STEM leaders

 

And there you go! Our next workshop with IGNITE Worldwide is next week! We're hoping to teach 80 more girls how to code!

Small and Basically helping teach girls how to program,

  • Ninja Ed

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