By Sanjana Shah, Girls Innovate! Teen Committee
Around 50 middle school girls from various non-profit organizations, including Girls Innovate!, took part in the Design_Code_Build event, which was held at the Computer History Museum on December 7, 2014. This event was unique in itself, as the students were introduced to hands-on coding not on a laptop or a tablet, but on a Raspberry Pi, which is a credit card-sized mini-computer. As soon as I heard about this program, I registered for it and was eagerly awaiting the day to come.
The day started off with us breaking into four groups and designing creative team mottos. The team spirit activities, such as coming up with a team superhero and the superhero’s powers, were really engaging, allowing everyone in each group to think of innovative ideas. There were many different activities and my favorite one was programming music with Raspberry Pi, where we got to create our own music and sounds by doing hands-on coding. With this activity, we were taught loops (for & while) and conditions (if statements).
Another fun activity was designing instruction sets to navigate a life-sized maze. The game was to walk your partner through a maze while using arrow signs. Initially, it was a little challenging, as one had to follow your partner’s instructions, which if not clear, could have been really confusing for the other person to follow. This game focused on how logic, analytical thinking, and team-work is important in programming.
After this outdoor activity, we explored the Computer History Museum and dived into the history of computer evolution. We saw many computing artifacts and the one that gained my attention the most was the punch card. Earlier digital computers used these punch cards where both commands and data were represented by the presence or absence of holes in the predefined positions. We also learned about the first electronic general purpose computer that did more math than any human before it (ENIAC). We were told that ENIAC, Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, was made completely by women and was specifically built to help in World War II, but it was finished just after the war ended. All of these activities taught us problem solving, and how real life problems can be solved using creative thinking skills.
Right before lunch, we were introduced to Dr. Shuchi Grover, a research scientist at SRI International, who has focused on computer science education for kids in K-16, and has further enhanced our interest in computer science and STEM with her speech. She has inspired many girls in today’s world to join the field of computer science. Grover highly believes that diversity sparks innovation and creativity, and works hard towards achieving the same.
The event concluded with a presentation from each group of girls sharing how they worked together to overcome obstacles by thinking like a systematic program. Throughout this event, we explored the basics of computer science. This event showed us how analytical thinking and problem solving skills are the basic foundations and stepping stones for STEM education, so that we can imagine what it is like to design, code and build like a scientist.