The mission of Girls, Incorporated, a national non-profit, is to “inspire and empower all girls to be strong, smart and bold.” The mission of TechGirlz, also a non-profit, is to reduce the gender gap in technology professions by introducing middle-school aged girls to technology programs and to the varied careers available in tech. Given that the two organizations are dedicated to empowering girls, it makes sense that their paths would cross and that they would work together at some point in time.
Cherice Arrington, the Education & Outreach Coordinator for Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey, noted that she wanted to partner with TechGirlz to give the girls her organization works with a chance to learn more about computer science and technology. Sarah Johnson, the Community Outreach Manager with TechGirlz, reached out to her and the two organizations partnered together to host a You Can Code and Designing Mobile Apps workshop on a Saturday in February. The partnership continued with a 4-week workshop held during one of Girls, Inc.’s afterschool programs at HA Brown Elementary School, in Kensington, Philadelphia.
Girls Inc.’s Operation SMART program at HA Brown Elementary School focuses on community projects, renewable energy sources, and energy conservation, as part of the PECO Energizing Education program as well. Since part of the program involves having the girls present their projects to and teach other people, the Designing Mobile Apps workshop from TechGirlz seemed like a good fit.
Becca Nock, a TechGirlz volunteer, led the four-week Designing Mobile Apps workshop. A registered nurse, Becca was always interested in the interplay of healthcare and technology. Her interest was further piqued when she enrolled in graduate school at UPenn. She’s now pursuing a PhD from Penn in Nursing Informatics.
Although technology didn’t really interest her in middle or high school, it plays a big part in her life and career today. She wanted to change the world, so she went into healthcare, not realizing that going into tech could also help her make the world a better place. Becca got involved with TechGirlz after moving to Philadelphia, in part to help today’s middle school girls learn about tech and how they can use it to better the world around them.
Designing Mobile Apps
As a nurse and student at Penn, Becca has hands on experience creating healthcare related apps, making her a good fit for leading the workshop with Girls, Inc. Since the program was part of an after school program, the structure was a bit different from many TechGirlz workshops although it still used the same free curriculum. It took place over the course of four Tuesday afternoons, in one hour increments. Twelve girls in grades six through eight participated in the program.
The first week, they focused on brainstorming ideas, the second they focused on designing and creating the user experience. During the third week, they actually built the prototype for their apps, working either individually or in teams. During the final session, the girls shared their work with others in a presentation.
Another way that the after school program was different from other workshops Becca has taught was in the limited tech available. The program was held at the school and Internet wasn’t available. Although it was a tech workshop, it ended up being taught in the most low tech way possible.
The limited technology wasn’t much of an issue, though, as the girls were working with Prototyping on Paper (POP), a program that involves sketching out the idea for an app on good old fashioned paper (such as Post-It notes), then taking photos of the pieces of paper. Becca used her phone to snap shots of each girl’s prototype, then used POP to add buttons, functionality, and to ultimately put the prototype of each team’s app online.
Given PECO’s involvement in the program, each app had an energy conservation theme. Although each app took a creative approach to saving energy, one of the stand outs, according to Becca, was an app called “Lights Out!,” created by a student named Meadow. The app connects to cameras in people’s homes and reminds them to switch off lights in various rooms when they leave or before they go to bed at night. Users build up points for turning off lights, and can then redeem those points for prizes.
Why Teaching Girls About Tech Matters
A lot of stereotypes still exist when it comes to tech and computer science. There’s also the issue of access to technology, which many girls don’t have in their daily lives.
As Girls, Inc.’s Cherice Arrington puts it, many young girls are taught to think that tech’s “for boys,” or that it’s nerdy, or just something you do in school. The programs offered by TechGirlz and Girls, Inc. help girls learn to break through those stereotypes. They get first hand experience working on a project that they design and put together themselves. Given the opportunity to participate in a hands on activity, they learn not to be afraid of technology and not to be afraid to challenge themselves.
Many of the girls in the Operation SMART program have limited exposure to technology. Becca noted that not many of them had their own smartphones or knew what an app was before the workshop.
The workshop not only introduced the girls to what is out there when it comes to technology, and to what a career in technology can look like. It also gave them a chance to show their stuff in front of classmates and staff during a presentation that followed the Shark Tank model.
The partnership between Girls, Inc. and TechGirlz was a fruitful one, because, as Cherice put it, “Girls, Inc. has the girls and TechGirlz has the volunteers” and free content (TechShopz in Box™). Everyone involved in the workshop was awesome, she stated, and she’s very excited to work with TechGirlz again and for what future partnerships might hold.
About Girls Inc.
Girls, Inc. has been in existence for more than a century and has chapters across the country. The Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey chapter is the only one that serves the Philadelphia area. The organization has a number of curriculums, designed to help girls become strong, smart, and bold. Each curriculum focuses on a different topic, such as economics and finance, leadership, media literacy, and self defense. Operation SMART, which is one of their most popular programs, focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and involves a partnership with area schools.
TechGirlz is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to reducing the gender gap in technology occupations. We develop fun and educational hands-on workshops, called TechShopz, and an annual Entrepreneur Summer Camp. These efforts aim to get middle-school age girls interested in different kinds of technology and demonstrate the varied options of careers available. We enable them to interact with professionals who have carved out successful careers in technology fields, and empower them to be future technology leaders.
Written by volunteer Amy Freeman.