Event puts girls on course towards programming

St. Margaret's students take part in National Girls Learning Code Day

St. Margaret’s students Natalie Beilin and Anjulie Djearam were just two of the attendees of the latest Girls Learning Code workshop.

St. Margaret’s may have science labs, two gyms, a sports field and rooms for music and culinary arts, but on Saturday, the computer rooms were the place to be.

The private independent school hosted one of two local coding events as part of National Girls Learning Code Day, teaching young students and residents how to build and design their own websites. In Canada, 1,090 children and parents tried their hands at HTML and CSS, two coding languages used for developing content and stylistic features of websites.

“Here in Victoria, at St. Margaret’s and UVic together, we had almost 150,” said Christina Jones, Victoria co-ordinator of Girls Learning Code. “That’s a good percentage of the country.”

Grade 5 student Anjulie Djearam joined the workshop after her dad noticed a flyer for it on the bulletin board. She said her brother taught her a little about HTML and CSS, and she watched him make a website before the workshop.

“At first, it was kind of confusing to make all the different codes and to put the opening text to make a paragraph, but once you get used to it, it’s really easy,” she said.

Similarly, Grade 2 student Natalie Beilin signed up with her sister, who had attended two other Girls Learning Code workshops and inspired her to try it herself.

“Mine was about cute animals and magical creatures – bunnies, pandas, dragons,” said Beilin.

HTML (hypertext markup language), in layman’s terms, is the skeletal structure of a website, while CSS (cascading style sheets) defines the stylistic qualities of a website, such as colours, fonts and backgrounds. The girls used Mozilla Thimble, a lightweight coding platform, to put together their sites.

The latest event is the fourth time the Girls Learning Code workshop has been held at St. Margaret’s. The workshop is run by Ladies Learning Code, a national not-for-profit offering beginner-friendly tech education.

Lauren Hudson, a program support teacher for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, said the workshops have had a positive influence on students. She noted some girls recently asked the school to run another coding session on its certification day, which typically offers courses on such topics as babysitting, first aid and food safety.

“This year, the girls themselves brainstormed and they decided they wanted to offer a coding workshop,” said Hudson. “That’s separate from Girls Learning Code, but I think it’s because of the Girls Learning Code opportunities that the girls are being exposed to computer programming and they’re saying, ‘Hey, I like this.’

“That’s a really good indication that the learning is extending beyond just the events, which is fabulous.”

Jones said a follow-up survey found that 98 per cent of the attendees would take a coding course again, noting the course is a good introduction to technology for young girls.

“It’s a bit unique in the way it delivers the content,” said Jones. “Ladies Learning Code and Girls Learning Code is very social and collaborative – we try very hard to make sure the girls have somebody sitting close to them who can talk to them and walk them through stuff.”

Not only do the mentors provide help and guidance in building and designing websites, but Jones said they also serve as role models and show girls that they can have careers in technological fields.

 

“That’s the whole mandate behind Girls Learning Code, to normalize women in technology and to make it more accessible,” said Jones.