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Middle school girls on a coding mission



In August, nearly two dozen seventh and eighth grade girls learned about the importance of computer programming at Argonne National Laboratory. Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

On a recent August day at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, 19 seventh and eighth grade girls huddled around computers learning the fundamentals of coding in the Python programming language as part of a two-day “CodeGirls at Argonne” camp.

The coding camp seeks to immerse the girls in computer science before they enter high school. “It’s a shorter version of the computer science coding programs we offer for older students,” said Learning Center Instructor Kelly Sturner.

“We started the camp with a challenge to program small battery-powered cars to travel through a maze using a tablet computer, and progressed to a series of projects and games that prepared the students for their final collaborative coding activity to build some simple programs using the Python language,” said Sturner.

“CodeGirls at Argonne helps break down the typical stereotype of coding being a solitary and male activity. This camp allows girls to meet female computer scientists and see that coding happens within our teams and in lighted rooms.” — Meridith Bruozas, manager of educational programs and outreach, Department of Educational Programs.

In addition to learning coding fundamentals, the girls interviewed female computer scientists at the laboratory about their work. Questions like “What do you like about your job?”; “Do you work in an office?”; “What made you want to go into this field?” and “What did you study in school?” were among many posed as students and scientists talked.

Along with classroom-style sessions and a tour of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, students discussed portrayals of women in science and how those influence school and career choices.

As for the students, they had much to say about their experiences:

  • “I learned what a computer scientist is.”
  • “I learned to not overthink coding. If you look at things from a different perspective, it’ll be easier to succeed. My highlight of the day was meeting the pretty cool women who work here.”
  • “It was frustrating at times but I really think it made us be the best we could be.”

Meridith Bruozas, Argonne’s manager of educational programs and outreach, commented that “CodeGirls at Argonne helps break down the typical stereotype of coding being a solitary and male activity. At Argonne, computer scientists work as part of interdisciplinary teams that focus on solving problems. This camp allows girls to meet female computer scientists and see that coding happens within our teams and in lighted rooms.”



At the CodeGirls at Argonne camp, middle schoolers spoke with Argonne scientists about the role coding plays in their research. Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

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Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

 

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