IT: Girls Allowed!

Girls from Ark Kings at the IT: Girls Allowed! student conference

If asked to think about the world leaders in computng and technology names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come to mind instantly.  There exists a negative perception that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) related careers are mainly for boys.

Although girls outperform boys in the majority of STEM GCSEs, thereafter the trend is reversed. Many girls see STEM careers as 'too difficult' and a better match for a 'boys' brain and personality'.

At Ark Kings we believe in challenging stereotypes and in broadening student horizons, in giving all students (regardless of gender) opportunities intended to kindle passions and interests that may well lead them aspire to and be successful in a range of careers and fields of excellence.

Researchers have explored what is known to propel somebody to choose a career in science. The literature is clear that there are three key factors. Liking STEM isn’t enough, it has to be relevant to a person’s interests and goals. They also need to feel confident they can succeed, and have access to “science capital” – the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience of STEM through personal networks.

In November the 'IT Girls Allowed' event gave ten year 8 and 9 girls an opportunity to realise these careers are just as accessible to them as they are to boys. They joined two other schools at the Barclaycard headquarters in Northampton for an exciting day of activities from designing inventions of the future to programming robots.

The day began with an introduction from Dr Stacey Habergham, a post-doctoral researcher and science outreach officer at the Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, who explained how she uses Computer Science and Mathematics to survey distance stars and galaxies from her workplace in the UK controlling a telescope on an island off the coast of north west Africa!

After the inspiring talk the girls got started with one of the 3 workshops where there were often prizes up for grabs and tough problems to solve!

First up was the design the future activity. The smartphone has revolutionised the way we communicate with people whilst on the move. The pupils had the task of inventing technology for the future with the same disruptive impact on society. Neneh (year 9), designed contact lenses which could help the blind to see, catching the eyes (no pun intended) of the assessors and winning a computer tablet! CJ (year 8) was the runner-up with her idea of a virtual reality design room, where simulations of problems can be run in a virtual reality room to help plan and build solutions in the real world.

Second was the ‘Surf til it drops’ activity. The mission was to find errors on the websites. Defect sheets in hand the pupils pushed websites to their limits and it wasn't long before they were finding dead links and spelling errors! With points being given out, the pupils were eager to rack up the most defects and secure a prize. Fortunately Ark Kings won again with 1 pair winning Barclays branded water bottles!

With prizes in tow, the pupils turned from inventors to testers to programmers.

After a swift introduction to the concepts of functions, parameters, loops and ‘if statements’ groups of 2 were each given a robot to program. Their first challenge being to get their robot to ‘walk’ in a square shape. After a quick discussion involving angles, motors and loops the pupils had their robot friends getting dizzy as they sped around in near perfect little squares.

The next challenge involved using sensors to allow the robot to find it way around a path. This proved far harder as many robots ended up shunting back and forth or seemingly being scared of the path completely; preferring to speed backwards as soon as it sensed it was there.

As the groups worked out the algorithm to follow the path the aim immediately became about speed, which team could get the bots around in the fastest time. Minor tweaks allowed them to shave seconds off their lap times with some knocking off over 5 seconds in a matter of minutes.

Unfortunately after the 3rd workshop it was time to return to the minibus. The pupils had walked into Barclaycard HQ 5 hours earlier as a group of year 8 and 9 students but left the building as a group of budding programmers, site testers and technological innovators!

We would like to thank everyone that took time out of their day to make this event possible, your enthusiasm, advice and guidance was greatly appreciated.

Science and technology are and will continue to be important factors in what we are able to accomplish in our lifetimes. As long as young boys and girls are exposed to science and technology and are equally encouraged to study those disciplines, those with talent and a genuine interest in those fields will be able to develop that interest.