BVU Student Helps 4th Graders Create Code and Learn Algorithms

BVU Student Helps 4th Graders Create Code and Learn Algorithms

BVU Student Helps 4th Graders Create Code and Learn Algorithms

Not enough women know entering into a career in the fields of physics, computers, or math is an option for them.

When Buena Vista University student Shauna McKnight was the only woman in her computer science classes, she faced issues that women may feel as they enter into science-based work places.

"I think a lot of girls aren't encouraged to go into that kind of thing. When I told my mom I was going to pick computer science she said 'why don't you pick something easier?' She didn't get why I was doing it." She adds, "Girls need to be told they can do things and can do whatever they want to do."

So she held a workshop at Storm Lake Elementary for girls. Working with BVU's partner in excellence class, Mrs. Drey's fourth grade class, she recruited 14 girls to the one and a half hour long session where they learned about algorithms.

She calls the program G.E.M.S.- girls in engineering, math, and science.

McKnight explains, "I gave them a short presentation and then taught them about algorithms. It' an important part of computer science because in order to write a program you need to know how to clearly tell the computer the steps it needs to do."

Scratch was the program used for the the G.E.M.S. workshop. Available online the program is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

The girls in the class had to put certain words in a specific order and then the cartoon characters on the screen would follow the directions.

In order to explain this to the girls McKnight recruited Karl Ahrendsen to help.

He followed only the girls directions to walk across the room as an example before they began using the scratch program online. When they said stick your foot out and lean forward he pretended to almost fall because they didn't explain to then stick out the other foot. The girls got a laugh out of this and then realized every detail must be explained.

McKnight says they were excited to show their classmates not participating in the workshop how to use the scratch program online.

Mrs. Drey sent McKnight a note following the workshop that said, "The girls LOVED IT! They were talking about it all day. Of course, they were asking if they were going to do it again."

Students from all three fourth grade classes were welcome to join in the activity. McKnight had hoped to get five to 10 girls when she first started planning the workshop. In total 14 girls participated and now more want to.

Girls are interested in math and science if given the opportunity.

Another idea McKnight says might be a good program would be to partner with other disciplines such as physics. Not every student will be interested in one field of science so having other opportunities in the different science fields could prove even more beneficial.

Last year as part of the Association for Computing Machinery club McKnight and Ahrendsen participated in a similar activity with a classroom. From there McKnight was inspired and had to create a "passion project" for her senior "media project class." G.E.M.S. became the focus of her media project class and is ultimately what led her to create her own workshop.

She hopes to continue with her passion project in the future.