The DiscoverE outreach program and its Girls Coding Club program teaching computer programming to girls from grades 3 to 9, has won a Google RISE Award

Last year, DiscoverE, an initiative by the University of Alberta Faculty of Engineering, became the first Canadian group ever to win a RISE Award, now in their fifth year, and now it is first to win two.  

The Girls Coding Club started last fall as an offshoot of popular coding programs offered to girls in the DiscoverE summer camps. Girls in the club are split into two groups, from grades 3 to 5 and grades 6 to 9. Both groups are taught Scratch and Python and learn about concepts like sorting and sequencing and how computers work. Mentors from the IT industry visit the club to talk about what they can accomplish with coding skills and career possibilities.

In the current session, girls are looking at problems they have around them to see whether they can write the code to make things better.

The DiscoverE team, now with $30,000 more to help young girls learn to code. Credit and link: University of Alberta.

“In DiscoverE we move from inspiring kids in science, technology, engineering and math to empowering them, to move them from consuming technology to producing technology,” said Mohamed El-Daly, the Faculty of Engineering’s outreach coordinator. 

Girls Coding Club coordinator Alix Krahn, who is completing her computer engineering degree this spring, says it’s important that girls get specific encouragement in the high-tech world, though engineering already seems to do that in the most important way of all, at least in the U.S.; among all industries, engineering has the smallest wage gap between male and female employees.

“In the coding course in my first year of engineering, I realized, ‘Yeah—I’m good at this.’ Girls aren’t encouraged to look into this area but the boys in my class had been doing this since they were 12 or 13," says Krahn.

She says young programmers began to flourish in the course. Some of them programmed fairly elaborate games; others took on personal coding projects in their free time at home. One idea DiscoverE is investigating is to have girls from the coding club set up Girls Coding Club branches at their own schools to teach their peers and learn together.

“I think they know best how each other thinks, so they can explain the concepts to their peers better than I can. I might use words or concepts they don’t know or things that don’t relate to them,” she said.

El-Daly says peer-to-peer teaching would be a real success for the program.

“We believe that kids are better able to reach their peers than we are,” he said. “They can take ownership of their education, and we will be there to support them and give them direction.”