Coding Games for Kids, Especially Girls, Have Come a Long Way
Feedback from 12,000 students showed that before playing EAK, only 10 percent of the girls wanted to learn more about coding. After playing, this figure increased to 95 percent. In the game’s newest (paid) iteration, launching in September, players will also be able to snap up illustrated kitten cards, Pokémon-style, as well as face challenging enemies and collect coins.
Creating programming games that appeal to girls is only half the battle. With women representing just 27 percent of STEM workers in the US, a combination of factors is required for real change, including reframing how girls view themselves in relation to math and science. It’s a space that can feel unforgiving for females, who are often their own harshest critics, but it is also still subject to unconscious bias and stereotypes about girls being less capable. (As research from a few years ago found, there’s no room to fail if you’re a woman; even having code accepted, which happened more often for women than men, required their gender to be concealed.)
Teaching Girls It’s OK to Fail
With more hurdles to jump over and harsher consequences if there is a misstep, it can feel like girls don’t have the same option for trial and error as their male counterparts, even though taking risks and making mistakes is precisely what coding is all about.
John noticed that girls are more reticent to showcase their creations on her platform, spending longer on them and making sure there are “no bugs” (compared with boys, who are more comfortable sharing their work as they go).
Netherlands-based Janneke Niessen, an entrepreneur turned investor, is the creator of The New Girl Code, a series of novels based on her own adventures in tech. Geared towards young female readers, the series aims to remedy the cult of perfectionism among girl coders.
“Failure is just part of the process, and an important part of the process. What I think is a pity is that at quite a young age girls think that tech is boring and difficult and not for them.
“If you ask them if they want to work at Snapchat or Instagram, they say yes. So their view of what working in tech means is not correct. But if they close doors early on in their lives, that has implications for the opportunities they have later in life,” she says.
Coding: Put It in Their Fingertips
While EAK teaches kids to type “real code, so it can never be on a phone,” according to Saigal, one big change in the new breed of coding apps for kids is that many of them are mobile-first. Which already makes them more tween- and teen-girl-friendly. (Female gamers tend to play 25 percent longer than men when playing on their phones.)
As John says of Hopscotch, which lets you create on mobile (and on the iPad), this is “super important because that’s the computer that kids actually want to use.”
Another mobile-first coding app founded from a desire to get more young women interested in computing comes from Stockholm-based, female-led imagiLabs, a coding community and social network launched in 2018.
The iOS app gets kids coding in Python in a gamified way, for free, using a character called an “imagiGhost,” who teaches them to make pixel art. There’s also a smart coding accessory: the $93 imagiCharm, which features 64 LED squares in an 8 x 8 matrix, which can be attached to a backpack.
The company sent us one to test, which my 8-year-old has been playing with. When I asked her how the coding was going one day, she asserted, with an eye roll: “This isn’t coding. It’s really fun; I’m changing colors and making art.”
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October 5, 2021 at 04:09AM