How Learning Python is Helping Girls Shape the Digital World

Ladies Learning Code’s Teen Club holds multiple events every month to teach 13 to 17 year old girls new and longstanding programming practices. The workshops are free and laptops are provided to those who can’t bring one for themselves. Last Saturday the group met to learn Python.

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Python is the fifth most popular programming language worldwide. Created in the late nineties as an easier to read general-purpose language it’s come a long way in a short time. It’s used by Google, Wikipedia, CERN, NASA, and Reddit – which is entirely made up of Python code.

As the web is slowly shaping itself through Python, Ladies Learning code is encouraging youth to be a part of the process.

Ladies Learning Code’s Teen Club holds multiple events every month to teach 13 to 17 year old girls new and longstanding programming practices. The workshops are free and laptops are provided to those who can’t bring one for themselves. Last Saturday the group met to learn Python.

“So much of our daily lives now are online, interactive networks,” says Dr. Aaron Maxwell, an astrophysicist and volunteer mentor at the Teen Club. “So to not arm these kids with that knowledge, to give them this extra tool on their tool belt, I think it’s a detriment.”

One of the mentees, Chloe Maceda, has taken this principle to heart by starting her own club at her school which focuses on discussing women in STEM and basic coding techniques with classmates. It’s called AbbyBytes. She’s been coding since Grade 7 and uses her skills in HTML, JavaScript, Jquery and CSS at hackathons hosted in Toronto and Windsor.

“I wanted to brush up on my Python skills … when I learned it in school I didn’t really understand it,” says Maceda. “I learned it from code academy on the computer on my own but here I’m learning one on one with a mentor.”

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The effectiveness of one on one mentorship is felt by another teen named Kate, who’s been learning programming from her father since she was around 6 years old. She says her teacher at school barely knows what they’re doing when it comes to code making it even less engaging amongst an entire class of kids. She reads a book on programming regularly but says the knowledge doesn’t stay as long as it does in visual or practical learning settings.

“We couldn’t figure out if L statements were coming out true and [the teacher] blamed it on the compiler,” says Kate. “I got the introduction but I wasn’t getting the constant practice for everything. The workshops help me remember everything better.”

Volunteer mentor, Ariel Lamb, agrees that one on one targeted learning is better for coding because it’s more hands on. In a classroom setting, she says, it can be formatted and lack practical learning methods. The Teen Club offers a more direct learning experience where the students can not only learn how to code but learn a whole other way of thinking about it.

While Maceda and Kate were there to brush up on acquired skills that weren’t getting proper instruction at school, 9th grader Affaf Amjad wants to get a head start in her computer science course next year and figure out if programming is for her. She has created a maze game using the coding language Scratch, but Python is new to her. Knowing Scratch could be a huge benefit to her as one mentor and RBC software developer, Keros Rodrigues, says it’s much like learning a language.

“If you teach kids programming early on it can be easier to grasp growing up and there isn’t such a learning curve,” says Rodrigues. “Kids learn new languages easier, it’s similar with coding.”

Volunteer, Sarah Walters, believes teaching kids how programming works can be helpful in the long run for future generations. Her first exposure to code was in first year Electrical Engineering at Queens University when she had to take a core Computer Science course. She was hooked on the different way of learning it offered and has volunteered at Ladies Learning code since.

“When you go to a job now there’s a guarantee that there is going to be tech especially when these girls go into the work force,” says Walters.  “Even if they don’t want to do the tech themselves it’s still important that they understand it when someone else does.”

Dr. Maxwell says this understanding will eventually have to translate into politics as well, which he says is another reason young coders could enrich future generations.

“How many members of parliament and members of our government how many do you think know how to code? Or set up a database? Or know to like protect their phones so the important information isn’t stolen or left behind or not encrypted?” says Dr. Maxwell.

But these high schoolers aren’t concerned with that just yet. Maceda wants to learn more to improve her standings in hackathons. Amjad wants to make something interactive on webpage using Python. Kate wants to gather as much programming knowledge as possible to make “some really cool stuff.” And Hailee Vassell just wants to combine her skills in CSS and HTML with Python to make a website because Java just didn’t click with her right away.

With more workshops on the way from Ladies Learning Code, there could be some very cool stuff and progress much sooner than we think.

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