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I heart coding and I do it for you Canberra!

HerCanberra Team

It’s not my usual sleepy Sunday morning at 6am as I creep out the house, trying not to wake my two year old daughter and her Daddy.

But today is special. We are launching the inaugural Canberra Girls’ Programming Network (GPN) for a group of young girls from local and rural Canberra schools.

What is this GPN? Only one of the best ideas from our colleagues in Sydney and the National Computer Science School, who started the program in NSW some eight years ago. The aim of the GPN is to inspire school girls to learn about computer programming and technology with the support of female mentors ranging from college and tertiary students to ICT professionals.

The main event of the GPN is a workshop that combines a coding exercise, this time using a language called Python, with fun logic games. These games are known as CS unplugged, meaning Computer Science activities that involve problem-solving and working together, literally without the computer.

With the introduction of the National Digital Technologies Curriculum, these workshops could help the digital fluency of our students and most importantly, boost their confidence to embrace computing for the future.

The buzz starts as myself and a wonderful group of volunteer women from varying ICT and cyber security backgrounds prepare the room, get some gift bags laid out and workbooks at the ready. At 9.45 am the students and their parents begin arriving. There is a bit of caution and mystique in the air in anticipation of what will unfold.

Five minutes before kick­off and the tutors gather together to discuss how we plan to pump up the crowd with a dynamic entrance. I gather up the students into the workshop room and Beyonce’s Run The World (Girls) blasts out the speakers and more than a dozen women in magenta GPN t­shirts run into the room kicking off a Mexican­-wave­-high-­five!

Well, the smiles and giggles carried on for the rest of the day!

In this GPN workshop, the girls learned to code scissors paper rock (lizard spock!) and played some fun and social games that applied the logic and problem-solving aspects of their thinking. Can’t code? No problem, it was not a prerequisite to have coded before, or to have used laptops. The GPN workshops are founded on helping others learn together with no prior experience. However, for the coding initiated, there were extension challenges supported and guided by tutors with what I can only describe as having coding superpowers!

For the opening and post­-lunch CS unplugged activities, we opted for some physical examples of coding in action! Ever tried giving instructions to make a jam sandwich? What happens when you give it to a ‘Robot’; otherwise known as our tutor­-bot? It was a great effort on the part of our young students. We ended up with something slightly resembling a strawberry and butter jam sandwich, complete with butter knife still between the bread slices. Better still, our ‘Robot’ had enough jam on her hands to last her until afternoon tea time! It was all in good fun as the girls got a taste of giving concise instructions for a Robot to interpret, much like a computer program wouldn’t you say.

The next activity also involved a ‘Robot’. This time, teams of girls had to compose instructions in advance to guide the Robot from the outside doors, weaving and negotiating the office jungle of stairs, lifts and obstacles. The Robot of the day did succumb to a few bumps and bruises as a few walls got into the way and it was rather tough pressing the elevator buttons when the instructions left her standing in the middle of the lift! But we all made it back into the room in one piece!

The best part of the day was when we invited parents, teachers and close friends of the girls in for afternoon tea so each of the students could showcase what they had created and learned. The parents were dazzled with playing scissors paper rock against the program their daughters had made. For a moment in time, there was nothing else in this world except the joy and amazement that filled that room.

Myself and my fellow tutors felt as one,­ bursting with pride at the achievement of these girls in just one day.

I will be one of those parents one day. I’ll walk into a room overflowing with energy and happiness to have my daughter do a show and tell of what she accomplished with a bit of technology and a whole lot of love!

The next Canberra GPN workshop is scheduled for 21 August 2016 at St Clare’s College. Contact ASD.DISH@Defence.gov.au for registration details.

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