FARMINGTON – With a few emojis of “code,” a little robot hops, spins and finishes with a little giggle. Designed for preschoolers, Coji the coding robot teaches the basics of piecing together chunks of code, or in this case, picture emojis, to create a sequence of actions.
Coji is one example of the resources available at the Farmington Public Library’s Girls Who Code events, said Kristin DeVargas, the library’s youth services technician. Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit organization aimed at closing the gender gap in technology and changing the image of what a programmer is. The organization provides educational tools to increase the number of women in computer sciences by designing a curriculum that encourages and inspires girls and young women to maintain interest in the field.
The library started the program in summer 2018, hosting classes every Tuesday. Training continues through no-school days and when students are out of school during the holidays. DeVargas said one student spent about a month programming her own video.
“We want to help them know how to do this,” DeVargas said. “And then they can go on and do their own.”
Using the free coding software Scratch from MIT, the students spend an hour working on a touchscreen as a large group, then break out with individual laptops and work on their own projects. The typical ages range from 8 to 12 years old.
According to Girls Who Code, fewer than 1 in 5 computer science graduates are women, and young women tend to drop out of computer science training between the ages of 13 and 17.
“We’re trying to bridge that gap for the girls in computer science programs because they’re really underrepresented. And they found if you start earlier, when they’re really excited, then they have a higher chance of sticking with coding,” DeVargas said.
Although internet access is difficult in some parts of the community, DeVargas said the program can provide a free and educational opportunity for students to work on programs they might not otherwise have access to. “That’s what libraries are for; we’re here to help teach and better serve our community.”
The library even has more advanced coding opportunities once students have graduated out of the Girls Who Code program.
“Scratch is a great way to get them started and to learn the basics,” said Victoria Wright, teen zone coordinator. “Then we try to do more advanced projects.”
While the curriculum emphasizes making coding accessible from an early age, one of the strongest aspects of the program is the community it creates.
“Part of it is sisterhood, teaching the kids to learn from each other,” DeVargas said.