UK's First Programming Challenge For Girls (PC4G)

Alice at Fakenham High School

Today, at Fakenham High School in Norfolk, was the first time Programming Challenge for Girls (PC4G) had been run in the UK.    

PC4G uses a program called Alice, a user friendly programming environment created by the Carnegie-Mellon University, that enables people who have absolutely no programming experience to pick up basic object orientated programming skills.  

Free scripting and prototyping environment program for 3D object behavior
Alice - CarnegieMellon
The PC4G website explains that it 

"wants girls to experience the fun of programming, and engage them before they make their senior high school subject choices. Its designed to be:

Educational  "

PC4G won a Google Roots in Science & Engineering Award 2013.

PC4G won 2013 Google Roots awardThe girls at Fakenham High School had no idea what their day was going to entail initially.  They were taken aside and given a motivating talk about what women can achieve in IT.

The girls were then all divided into pairs and introduced to Alice.  They worked through the tutorials for the first section of the day.  Then, after a break, came back and started on their programming challenge.

The Programming Challenge

It was great to see the girls all approach the problems they were presented with in so many different ways.  The different perspectives and ways of problem solving becoming apparent in such a very short period of time.  Some of the girls stuck to the instructions to the letter and used varieties of ways to solve the problem.  Others took great joy in creatively embellishing and improving on the basic requirements.  

I think Alice proved itself to be a valuable creativity and problem solving tool regardless of the programming aspect.

Alice has been designed to have a very user-friendly GUI showing all of the objects, methods and their properties, so superficially, at first glance, it might be easy to dismiss the program as being too 'drag and drop' and simple.

However, the variations in the way that a problem could be solved and the sheer amount of variables that could be manipulated made this a very powerful learning tool.  

It was great to be there and to help the girls with Alice.  It was only really necessary to help them find their confidence at the start and then just a few fiddly problems with distance estimates and getting their head around the commands relating to the spatial aspect of the 3D World.  Once they were running with it, it was good fun to watch them play and explore what they could create.

Alice in Wonderland

After lunch, we marked the girls work on the criteria they had been told to work to.  Then we met up again with them in the hall where the girls were presented with certificates for taking part.  When they were asked whether they had enjoyed their day they were whooping, clapping and cheering.  I was quite taken aback.  I am so happy that they had a fun time.

I was really pleased when one of the girls I'd been working with gave me a huge, happy, smug smile as she walked up to collect her certificate.  If a few of those girls now consider putting time into learning programming, whether it's now in time for their options at school or even a few years down the line, then taking the time to help out today was more than worth it. 

*************************************************************************************************************** "The problem is that we're just not doing enough to get more women into the IT industry.  One solution might be getting more young girls taking computer science at the secondary school level....." -  Google VP Marissa Mayer 2012


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