I spent the past 7 weeks teaching middle school girls to build websites as part of an after school program, CodeEd.
We didn’t teach anything too fancy, just basic HTML. Our goal was to introduce girls to the wonderful world of programming and technology and dispell some common myths: programming isn’t scary or impossibly hard, and programming can be creative and expressive.
We took a project-based approach: the girls spent their time building a site on any topic their heart desired, which this semester, turned out to be music, fashion, cats and Sims FreePlay.
Here’s what surprised me:
1. helloworld.html BLOWS THEIR MIND (creating an html file with a silly sentence and then seeing it in their browser). I think the realization is twofold: “whoa the internet is actually just made by people writing text in files”, and “whoa, this is something that I can do”. One girl immediately exclaimed,“Oh I’m going to show my mom that. She won’t believe it.”
2. Peer-teaching happened naturally when the students were excited about what they were learning. At the beginning of one class, a TA showed a student at the back room the marquee tag. She then shared it with the girl beside her, and the girl in-front of her, who both shared it with their neighbors, and so on. By the end of the class, the girl at the very front, opposite corner had her name running across her site. The entire class had learned the marquee tag from each other.
3. Keep the ‘lectures’ pithy. My students faded after 7-10 minutes. A class with short lessons, alternating between lecture and lab, worked better than a class with two chunks of lecture and lab.
4. The hardest concept was nested HTML. It took them 3 weeks to reach a solid understanding, and to get there we had to teach the concept in a number of ways: analogies (Russian Matryoshka dolls), games (drawing boxes around tags on the board) and by demonstrating it with style attributes (parent styles apply to their children).
5. A few girls consistenly spent hours outside of class working on their sites. We never assigned homework. They just wanted to make their sites better.
6. Some of the girls hated Math and Science, dismissing the subjects as hard but these same students excelled in our class.