Program Takes Byte Out Of Gender Gap

By Scott Maben
The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

A wall and at least one generation separated two groups of students learning computer programming skills in Coeur d’Alene this week.

In one classroom, 26 middle school girls took some of their first steps into computer coding. Next door, 20 high school teachers from across the Inland Northwest sat for similar lessons in hopes of integrating computer science into their math courses.

The dual approach for girls ages 11 to 14 and for teachers is called Dig’nIT, short for Digital Innovation Generating New Information Technology, and is presented by the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene.

Computer science skills are in high demand, but women still lag far behind men in pursuing those careers, said Julie Amador, director of the UI’s Idaho Regional Mathematics Center at Coeur d’Alene’s Harbor Center. Only about 15 percent of UI computer science students are females, Amador said.

“We’re trying to get them at this age to help form some of those perceptions that they can do it and they have the ability, and it’s not something that has to be a male-dominated career,” she said.

Another goal is to show the students how math is a fundamental component of many of today’s jobs.

The girls worked in a lab using Scratch, a free programming language and online community developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

They began by learning how to make a digital cat walk, turn and meow, and then moved onto more advanced functions. They also worked on creating story boards with talking characters in a scene, and they learned how 3-D printers work.

Alahna Harrison, 14, who is home-schooled in Coeur d’Alene, had two reasons for going to Dig’nIT camp: “I like puzzles and I want to help my dad program stuff.”

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