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Getting Moms and Dads Involved

I am excited by the explosive growth in our Georgia Tech computing workshops for Girl Scouts.

We started working with the Girl Scouts in 2005. I had been interested in using LEGO robots to introduce computing to kids but was worried about research that showed that in mixed gender groups boys often took over. One year at SIGCSE I saw a poster about the LEGO robots and asked the presenter if she had this problem. She said, "No, we are at an all girls school."

I contacted the local Girl Scout Council and they already had LEGO robots and laptops but nobody knew what to do with them. I suggested that I bring female undergraduate computing majors to help with Robot workshops and we started with volunteers.

In 2005-2006 we did three weekends where Dads go camping with their daughters and we had them program pre-built LEGO robots. We also offered two 4-hour workshops where the girls could build and program the robots. We also trained camp counselors to offer the robots at one Girl Scout camp that summer. About 190 girls got an introduction to computing from these activities in 2005-2006.

In 2006-2007 we again did three weekends with the Dads and girls. We offered three 4-hour robot workshops and our first workshop on Alice. We trained camp counselors to do the robots at one Girl Scout camp that summer and also lent the Girl Scouts PicoCricket kits and they used these at another Girl Scout camp. About 372 girls got an introduction to computing from these activities in 2006-2007.

In 2007-2008 we received an NSF Broadening Participation in Computing grant which meant that we could pay students to help at our computing workshops. We did four weekends with Dads and their daughters with LEGO robots, three weekends with Moms and their daughters with PicoCrickets, and ten 4-hour workshops in total using LEGO robots, PicoCrickets, Scratch, and Alice.

We also targeted Hispanic Girl Scouts. We went to a local Elementary school for three weeks in a row and introduced the students to computing using PicoCrickets and LEGO robots. We also bused in Hispanic Girl Scouts for one of our 4-hour workshops at Georgia Tech. Again the Girl Scouts offered LEGO robots at one summer camp and PicoCrickets at another. About 1595 girls got an introduction to computing from these activities in 2007-2008.

For 2008-2009 we are planning on doing the Dad and Me and Mom and Me programs and have fifteen 4-hour workshops scheduled! One of the cool things is that originally we had 12-20 girls at a computing workshop and now we get 60 at a time with a waiting list. Only about 25-30% of the girls have been to more than one computing workshop so we are still reaching new girls. Our Girl Scout Council of Greater Atlanta, Inc. has about 40,000 girls in it so we still have many more girls that we hope to reach.

We do a pre and post attitude survey and are finding that we can change the girls' attitudes towards computing in just these 4-hour workshops. We are getting the most statistically significant changes in attitudes with our PicoCricket workshops. We also get some statistically significant changes in attitudes with Scratch and Alice. We are currently not getting any statistical significant changes in attitudes with the LEGO robots.

I particularly like the events with the Dads and Moms and their daughters as research shows that one way to get girls interested in computing is to get their parents to support it. At these events we hand out career brochures from the Computer Science Teachers Association ("Consider Your Future in Computing"), ACM ("Computing Careers and Degrees") and the new "Talking Points" from NCWIT. It is fun to see the Dads' faces as they talk to the female undergraduate students and find out that they are majoring in Computer Science or Computation Media at Georgia Tech. You can tell that this surprises the Dads!

For more information see:

http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/ice-gt/201

for pictures from our Girl Scout workshops and our pre and post attitude surveys. See

http://csta.acm.org/Careers/sub/ClassroomCareersResources.html

for the CSTA career brochures we hand out. See

http://www.ncwit.org/resources.res.outreach.talking2.html

for the Talking Points from NCWIT.

Barb Ericson
Director, CS Outreach
College of Computing
Georgia Tech

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