Table6: Creating an Engaging App Development Course for Middle School Girls
Location: W179a, Table 6
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.
|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|
|Subject area:||STEM/STEAM, Computer science|
|ISTE Standards:||For Educators:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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.