Anyone who thinks computer programming is boring and just for boys should have stopped by the Currier Library at Foxcroft School Friday (Sept. 30). The 30+ middle school girls who attended the first “Jump into Game Design” event and the Foxcroft students helping them were all huddled over laptops, completely engrossed — riveted, even — in the task at hand: creating their own Frogger game.
The energy and excitement in the air was palpable as STEM Department Chair Maria Evans, PhD, and her computer science students moved around the room answering questions and checking the progress of their younger guests. In just a few hours — the event ran from 3:30 to 7:30 pm with a pizza break in the middle — each of the 5th thorough 8th graders had programmed her unique version of the classic arcade game, Frogger. They worked with an online programming environment called AgentCubes, which meant that when they returned home, they could share their game – and create others — with their families and friends, spreading the fun and excitement.
“Who knew that coding could be so thrilling?”, said Maddie Johns, a seventh-grader at the Hill School in Middleburg. She wasn’t all that excited when her mother signed her up for the event, but was clearly a convert by the end. “I didn’t want the evening to end!”
That’s exactly the kind of experience that Dr. Evans and former Foxcroft School Math Chair Susan Erba hoped would occur when they suggested holding the coding event. Like Foxcroft’s Head of School Cathy McGehee and other administrators at the girls’ boarding and day school, they are passionate about engaging young girls in computer science and other STEM disciplines in which women are underrepresented. So, together with the Admission Office, they invited girls from area local schools and communities to a free “Jump into Game Design” coding event.
The event was inspired by, and partially underwritten by, the University of Colorado’s Scalable Game Design Initiative. Evans and Erba attended a workshop in Boulder last year that focused on using game design and quick success to attract students to information technology. The idea is that, as was the case Friday, young students see the amazing things they can do with programming and get a feel for the process — without having to master complex programming languages or write their own code.