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Table6: Creating an Engaging App Development Course for Middle School Girls

Location: W179a, Table 6

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper


Monday, June 25, 4:00–5:00 pm
Location: W179a, Table 6

Dr. Savilla Banister   Cindy Ross  
This paper describes the implementation of an app development curriculum in a middle school girls summer camp program. Data collected, including the artifacts constructed (apps) by these young women, demonstrate that such activities increase awareness of opportunities in the STEM areas and empower young women to succeed in computer science.

Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Web browser and QR code reader.
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Innovative learning environments
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: STEM/STEAM, Computer science
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
Facilitator
  • Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
For Students:
Computational Thinker
  • Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.
  • Students formulate problem definitions suited for technology-assisted methods such as data analysis, abstract models and algorithmic thinking in exploring and finding solutions.

Proposal summary

Framework

This study focuses on a particular “women in STEM” initiative that provided a one-week summer camp experience for middle school girls. This particular camp experience was connected to Tech Trek, sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). (More information regarding Tech Trek can be found at http://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/stem-education/tech-trek/) As a component of this experience, a 12-hour (3 hours/day) app development course was offered to groups of 7th and 8th grade girls over a 3-year period. Using the MIT App Inventor (Walter & Sherman, 2015), as well as supplemental resources related to career paths in STEM, the instructors guided the girls in exploring and creating apps for mobile devices (phone and tablets). Key questions addressed in this study include:
1. Can a tech camp experience alter middle school girls’ perspectives on STEM career choices?
2. Can a tech camp experience nurture an interest in computer science for middle school girls?
3. Can a tech camp experience impact the choices that middle schools make regarding STEM-related high school course work in the future?
4. Can a tech camp experience for middle school girls that focuses on computer science be energizing and enjoyable?

Methods

Pre and Post Surveys were given to the participants (See Appendix A and B). These surveys focused on participants’ knowledge and beliefs regarding STEM careers and computer science, in particular. Questions related to the specific app development class and future high school coursework were also included in the survey. In addition, artifacts from the course (participant-developed apps and participant videos) were collected and examined in light of the research questions posed. The study is a mixed-method model, as quantitative data (scaled survey questions) and qualitative data (open-ended survey responses and artifacts) were analyzed appropriately to yield the final conclusions.

Results

The Pre Survey responses (See Table 1) indicated that the participants had strong, positive beliefs in general about women having successful careers in computer programming, with a majority of the participants indicating that they “Strongly Agreed” with this premise. They also all affirmed that they understood what a mobile app was and were confident that they could learn app development (60% Strongly Agreed, 40% Agreed). However, when questions were more personalized, (“I am comfortable with programming” or “I would enjoy a career in computer programming or application”), the responses were less enthusiastic, though none of the participants totally disagreed. These results were consistent over the 3-year period (2015, 2016, & 2017) that the workshops were offered. The data was so consistent, year to year, that the aggregated data is shared in this report, combining the responses from the young women from all three years.
Post Survey responses (See Table 2), however, demonstrated stronger, positive responses to personalized items and also indicated the participants’ change of mind regarding the power of apps to solve community problems and helping people to build better lives. These significant changes in beliefs and perspectives occurred over the course of only one week. Again, these responses were consistent across the 3 years of workshops.
When asked, “Did the App Inventor class change the classes you are likely to take in the future?” the young women answered overwhelmingly in the affirmative (See Table 3). In the follow-up question to this item, “Please explain.” open-ended responses demonstrated the middle school girls thought processes related to this line of inquiry. Their feedback included:

Before this class I didn't think about taking a career in technology, but now I'm very interested to fulfill a career in it. (2015 participant)

I am more likely to take computer programming classes now than before I did this class. I really enjoyed problem solving to figure out a program. Also props to Sydney for finding that awesome video that solved our choppy lines problem. (2017 participant)

Although an overwhelming number of participants from the past 3 years indicated that they would change the classes they take in the future, when asked on the post survey “Does your school offer classes in computer programming?” a relatively high percentage answered that they were not sure if computer programming was offered in their respective schools. (Table 4). This may indicate the need for school programs to educate students more about the available opportunities at both the middle school and high school experience for computer programming. If stand-alone computer programming courses are not offered by a school system, explanations could be provided to young women about other courses (science, math, technology) where computer programming may be explored as a part of the course curriculum. It is important for educators to find ways to connect and foster the excitement and curiosity of young women in computer programming with the possible opportunities available to advance those interests.

Importance

It is evident from the data collected that using the MIT App Inventor (http://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/about-us.html) to teach middle school girls about computer science and app development was an impactful way to encourage interest and excitement in STEM fields. Allowing these female students to “play” with the tools and create their own apps, aligned to their particular interests, was a strategy that was both enjoyable and educational. Because of the shortage of programmers and other computer specialists in the United States and the imbalance of women in STEM fields, in general, replicating this type of experience for girls, not only in the summer camp venue, but in clubs, elective courses, and short in-class experiences could be a powerful way to build a cadre of capable female computer scientists. Educators would do well to pursue these options as we continue to challenge students to grow as productive contributors to 21st century society.

References

Adams, S. L., Margulies, S., & Volk, S. W. (2012). Phoebe S. Leboy, groundbreaking activist for women in STEM. DNA and Cell Biology, 31(8), 1439-1439.
Beer, P., Simmons, C., & Safari Technical Books. (2015). Hello app inventor: Android programming for kids and the rest of us (First ed.). Shelter Island, NY: Manning Publications Co.
Census bureau releases 2009 American Community Survey Data. (2010, Sep 28). PR Newswire Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/755103308?accountid=26417
Gardner, H. & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today's youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Inkelas, K. K. (2011). Living‐learning programs for women in STEM. New Directions for Institutional Research, 2011(152), 27-37.
Jackson, K. M., & Winfield, L. L. (2014). Realigning the crooked room: Spelman claims a space for African American women in STEM. Peer Review, 16(2), 9-12.
Kadleck, C. (2015). Women in stem; From middle school to college, efforts to diversify the field span the education spectrum. Crain's Cleveland Business.
Lenovo. (2014). Lenovo and the national academy foundation launch Lenovo scholar network for next-generation STEM leaders. Education Letter, 53.
Lewis, D. C. (2015). Increasing diversity and inclusion for women in STEM. Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 62(8), 920-922.
Lewis, C. (2014). Irresistible apps motivational design patterns for apps, games, and web-based communities (1st ed.). Berkeley, CA: A press.
Long, G. (2014, ). Los fresnos students advance in verizon contest. McClatchy - Tribune Business News
Morris, C. (2014). North Carolina community college helps increase women in STEM. Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 31(23), 4.
Ramsey, L. R., Betz, D. E., & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2013). The effects of an academic environment intervention on science identification among women in STEM. Social Psychology of Education, 16(3), 377-397.
Walter, D. & Sherman, M. (2015). Learning MIT app inventor: A hands-on guide to building your own android apps (First ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley.
Xu, Y. (2015). Focusing on women in STEM: A longitudinal examination of gender-based earning gap of college graduates. The Journal of Higher Education, 86(4), 489.

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Presenters

Dr. Savilla Banister, BGSU

Savilla Banister has been in P-20 education for more than 30 years. Savilla has worked in underserved, urban K-12 schools to impact the digital divide, assisting in grant projects, and working side-by-side with teachers and students as they integrate digital technologies in their classrooms. She is currently Professor of Classroom Technology at Bowling Green State University, inspiring teacher candidates to develop TPCK and effectively use digital technologies to impact teaching and learning.

Cindy Ross, Bowlling Green State University

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