Did you know that last year, only 18.5 percent of AP Computer Science test takers were girls, while a mere 0.4 percent of females entering college intended to major in computer science. The gender gap in computer science education and careers has always existed, but now there’s a nationwide push to introduce computer science to children at a younger age and expand the interest levels of girls.
One organization hoping to close the gender gap is Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to increasing participation of computer science in early education by making it more readily available in schools, while also growing the number of women in the field. So far, Code.org’s curriculum has been adopted by 20,000 teachers, in grades as early as kindergarten. Though the number of interested students has increased, the gender gap still remains. Natalie Rush, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, argues that computer science is “being presented as, ‘Learn how to program’, but not ‘What do you want to program? What’s your idea?’” One way is trying to figure out what students, especially girls, are interested in, such as what games they enjoy playing, and reach them that way.
Despite being funded and backed by large corporate and billionaire donors from Amazon and Google, to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Code.org has yet to become widely popular. Yet, online games such as Minecraft have no issues attracting the attention of students. Minecraft looks like "a 3-D fairy tale that was cranked through the Matrix and came out rendered in blocks. Players can use modifications or “mods” written in Java and can build mods of their own design. You can play in “survival” mode — battling “creepers” and zombies — or “creative” mode, in which you build anything from a house to a village to a fantasy world. The latter seems to be especially appealing to girls.”
Stephen Foster, a founder of ThoughtSTEM, noticed numerous students entering his classroom wearing Minecraft apparel, hoping to learn more about coding. “Once it happened the 20th time, we started to realize, ‘Oh, hey, maybe these kids know something that we don’t.’” Students may be more compelled to learn how to code by learning from games that they actually play, like Minecraft.
ThoughtSTEM held its first Minecraft class a few months ago with one hundred students on the waiting list. “I would say that the girls are actually outperforming the boys,” said Foster. Games such as Minecraft are showing that girls, whether they realize it or not, are ideal candidates to succeed at computer science.
CoderDojo NYC, co-founded by 23-year-old programmer Rebecca Garcia, has a 50/50 split of girls and boys. Garcia’s interest in programming was piqued as a child by her obsession with NeoPets - an online game that let’s players customize their pet shops using HTML and CSS. Targeting girls who have a natural interest in games like NeoPets and Minecraft to sway them into computer science, especially if there’s a prominent female role model involved, will be the key to successfully closing the coding gender gap.
Jones & Bartlett Learning encourages women of all ages to study and succeed at Computer Science by providing a wide selection of texts that improve learning outcomes and provide career readiness. For more information or to view our Computer Science texts, visit jblearning.com/computing.