STEM for Middle School Girls!

Coding for Middle School Girls IQ Inc. with Pitt and SWE++


Introduce middle school aged girls to software engineering by teaching them how to use programming languages to solve problems.

What is SWE++

SWE++ (pronounced s-we-ee) stands for the Society of Women in Engineering. The mission of this organization is to introduce more women to the science of engineering. It originated in California and was adopted by the University of Pittsburgh who added their own flair to the organization and thus the “++”.

SWE++ & Middle School Girls

The members of SWE++ strongly believe the earlier you introduce students to the world of engineering the more opportunity they have to learn and explore it. By understanding the opportunities available to them and by empowering them to pursue what SWE++ is passionate about, these young women can be inspired to have bright and prosperous futures in these fields.

The Lessons

On day one, the room was filled with a diverse group of middle school-aged girls. Girls from various school districts around the Pittsburgh area filed into the room. While some of the girls knew each other, most of them did not. After the girls introduced themselves and were introduced to SWE++ they jumped right into Scratch.

Scratch is an online service aimed at teaching younger audiences the basics of programming through visual storyboards. Some of the girls in the class had previous experience with Scratch from school.

The girls transitioned from the visual structure of Scratch to the more traditional environment of Python. They were introduced to programming concepts including: variables, integers, strings, booleans, Input/Output, conditionals, loops, and functions. First they would be shown a presentation to explain a new concept, as well as, why and how it is used. They would then work with the presenter on a “follow-along” demonstration. At the end of class they would be given a project to work on. Most of them were able to complete the project or ask questions in order to complete it. Each girl would take home a small worksheet to complete for the next class.

The Outcome

Each girl’s experience was unique. For some, this posed as a great review or additional explanation to concepts they already knew. For others, this was just the event they needed to spark the curiosity that will drive them further down this path in the future, perhaps! Even more so, these girls had the opportunity to meet, learn from, and talk to, strong, intelligent role models. This social event cultivated friendships, life skills, education interests, and so much more.

Code Day

The culmination of the series ended with an all day-coding event, called Code Day!  Code Day included, not only this session’s participants, but it was opened to family and friends to learn, explore the various avenues of computer science and engineering.

Code Day consisted of 4 breakout sessions that immersed the girls into various aspects of computer science.  One session showcased the girls developing websites.  Another session allowed the girls to, literally, dig into a computer, getting a “hands-on” experience with a variety of hardware components.  An overall crowd favorite was the session where the girls were introduced to an Arduino and Redbot.  Here they were able to program a small robot to maneuver through a series of small obstacles.

The day ended with an inspiring presentation from Code Day sponsor, and IQ Inc.’s CEO, Barb Van Kirk.  Barb herself, is a female engineer that started her own business 25 years ago.

She prepared a presentation that included her own story, her struggles as a female engineer, and her path to success.  Barb reinforced in these girls minds, that they should always pursue their dreams and continue an ongoing pursuit to further their education.

IQ Inc. continues to give back to the community and seek out organizations such as SWE++ to help mentor and educate the next generation.