Coding club creates tech aspirations at Middletown school

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The tiny toy robots look a little like the ghosts from the old PacMan arcade game. But the little devices called Ozobots are helping students near Middletown learn the basics of computer programming.

Seventh grader Yashu Ponnaganti and her classmates at Alfred G. Waters Middle School love playing and learning with the Ozobots. They are enthusiastic members of the school’s 52-member strong Girls Who Code club.

“They roll around and you need to draw a track with them, you know, multiple colors,’’ Ponnaganti said about the Ozobots. “The base color is black and then you can add little dots in multiple colors. So in different patterns they recognize different codes and they do what that movement tells them to do.”

Many students in the Girls Who Code club at Alfred G. Waters Middle School are pondering careers in tech fields. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Girls who Code was created for girls like Yashu. It aims to expose girls to technology and increase the number of women who pursue such careers.

The national nonprofit group has programs in all 50 states, serving tens of thousands of girls. Delaware has 11 clubs.

The overarching goal is to reduce the gender gap in computer science. Fewer than one in five 5 college graduates with degrees in computer science or information sciences are women. In addition, only one in four people working in computer-science related fields today are women, down from more than one in three about 20 years ago.

It’s time for that disparity to end, Ponnaganti said.

“Things should never be just for boys or just for girls,” she said. “I feel like if you want to do something you should do it. So girls getting into coding is a great thing because it basically breaks the barrier of genders.”

Katelyn Scott, the librarian at Waters, embraced the change to start a club at last school year.

“Girls Who Code, they realize it’s important for girls to start to realize that this a career path that they could go into and hopefully meet with great success,’’ Scott said.

Katelynn Scott, co-leader of the Girls Who Code club at Alfred G. Waters Middle School, says the girls love to collaborate on computering and tech projects. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The kids meet weekly after school for two hours. Scott delivers a brief lecture on a tech topic, or a woman in the industry, then the kids split into groups. Some work with the Ozobots. Other design websites. Some create digital music. A handful work on robotics projects such as a programmable smart car.

For seventh grader Samantha Sparks, participating in the coding club will lay the groundwork for what she hopes will be a career in robotics or software engineering.

“I love playing video games. I think it would be cool to create one one day,” Sparks said. “I want to make an RPG fantasy game like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy.”

Scott says the girls bring a different mindset to coding and technology assignments.

“Some of the girls in our club are very chatty. They like to talk their whole way through,” Scott said. “Should we put the screw here? Should we put the screw there? But what if I hold this wire and you hold that wire and you do the soldering. They’re more collaborative.”

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