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Inspiring Girls in CS: ALA and NCWIT AspireIT team up to reach more girls through libraries

This post was co-authored by Jennifer Manning, Program Director, AsprielIT Partnerships, NCWIT, and Marjike Visser, Associate Director at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. It is the last of our #CSEdWeek series.

2017 CS Education Week was full of opportunity to showcase library coding programs and activities focused on Three girls working on computersinspiring girls to be involved with computer science from the National Center for Women & information Technology (NCWIT). While the week-long event just wrapped up, both of our organizations are committed to creating long-term opportunities for girls and young women to learn to love computer science and coding.

The ALA Washington Office’s Libraries Ready to Code initiative and NCWIT AspireIT are joining forces to connect young women program leaders to public libraries to design and implement coding programs for K-12 girls in an exciting pilot project.

For example, Madeline, a 2017 NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing recipient in the small town of Grand Isle, Vermont, recently served as an NCWIT AspireIT Program Leader to collaborate with her local library and offer her “Tech Island Girls” AspireIT program for middle school girls. “Tech Island Girls” transformed the tiny library into an Olympic Village with events in diving, figure skating, and even an equestrian event where the girls demonstrated their newly acquired skills in programming Spheros.

As a Program Leader, Madeline was able to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with the participants. Likewise, Program Participants benefit tremendously from this experience. One AspireIT participant states:

“I would have said that using computers was too ‘hard’ for someone like me and would not have a chance of having a profession in technology. When I started camp, I was very nervous that others were going to be better than me at it, but then I realized others were still learning, too.”

Both NCWIT and ALA know that many libraries are excited about hosting and building a rich coding program that fosters computational thinking among youth, but libraries may not have sufficient staffing to design and implement one. Partnering with a “near-peer” leader through the AspireIT program is one way to meet this need for libraries — created for libraries by libraries.

“We have been excited about the AspireIT program from day one!” says Ormilla Vengersammy, Department Head, Technology and Education Center, Orange County (FL) Library System. “We started a coding program at our library a few years back with traditional classroom instruction. Today, parents are eagerly seeking how to get their kids to become an active part of this huge digital drift into understanding the logic and science behind controlling technology. We’re constantly researching how to make it easy and compelling for kids to learn basic computational thinking and programming skills. This opportunity will bring fresh ideas to the table. We’re especially excited to have a “near-peer” leader to inspire and help our library connect with students in a whole new way.”

The NCWIT AspireIT and ALA pilot will connect a “near-peer” Program Leader (high school and college-aged) from the Aspirations in Computing community to three to five public libraries across geographic regions, serving small rural communities to large urban centers. We are currently finalizing the libraries that will participate and beginning the matchmaking process. Participating states include, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Maine. The pilot programs will occur in March and April of 2018. Future library programs will be based on what both organizations learn from the experiences of the libraries and the program leaders during the pilot.

If you would like to learn more about the importance of connecting girls and young women to CS, check out these resources from NCWIT. And, stay tuned for more information about the ALA-AspireIT pilot.

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Marijke Visser

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