A former Microsoft engineer talks about how she became the founder of a company teaching programming to middle-school girls.
“Oh honey, girls don’t do math.”
Although I was only 12, I will always remember this response from my math teacher when I asked him what type of careers would be available to someone who liked math. Many years later, when my 12-year-old daughter asked me if it was weird to like math, I decided I would act.
At the time I was about to accept a job with Microsoft and because of my daughter’s question, I inquired and found an unmet need there. They has no Digigirlz program locally. I accepted a role on the condition I could run it.
There was no curriculum provided. After many fits and starts, I developed courseware based on Microsoft Small Basic. My daughter was my tester.
I ran the Southern California Microsoft Digigirlz program for the four years I worked at the company. I also taught kids worldwide when I travelled for my regular job, as a senior developer and evangelist.
I learned that high school is too late to be inclusive. By that time, many kids have already self-selected out of tech, especially girls.
When I left Microsoft for consulting, I worked with a volunteer team to port the kid’s curriculum to Java. I decided to move from courseware for events to courseware for classrooms because single-day events weren’t making the impact that was needed. In talking to teachers, they told me that they couldn’t get qualified, interested kids for high school AP Java and that the lack of courseware in the middle school level was a key problem.
So, Teaching Kids Programming was born. The primary goal of the TKP project is to provide free and open source resources which can be used by middle school teachers worldwide to introduce children ages 10-14 to programming. TKP aims to modernize the work of Seymour Papert (Logo) and Andrea diSessa & Hal Abelson (Turtle Geometry) using Java.
TKPJava courseware consists of 70 coding lessons grouped into 8 courses. Each course teaches one to three core computational concepts such as loops, conditionals and events. Courseware is available on Github via source *.java files.
In addition TKPJava courseware includes written lesson plans and screencasts of lesson solutions designed to help teachers prepare. Courseware is designed to be taught using social coding methods such as pair or mob programming. Courseware is leveled and is designed for mastery-based learning.
As a working developer, you know how to code and much more. The most effective growth of TKP comes when developers volunteer their time to prepare teachers to teach kids to code. Yes, you read this correctly, we train a teacher to code, then the teacher will teach our kids. This is the model we need for the next generation.
To get started, download the courseware and work with a kid (or two) to learn how the courseware works. You may be surprised to see how quickly the kids learn. They are also great teachers.
My daughter, now 17 (shown below) has been teaching TKPJava for four years. The first adult she taught was her 5th grade history teacher, who took her TKPJava class and now teaches TKPJava to a new group of students each year.
--Lynn Langit has been an invited speaker on TKP at technical conferences in the US, Europe, Africa and Asia, and Australia.
Langit's 17-year-old daughter also recently spoke at a software event.