Eleven-year-olds Mikayla Morgan (left) and Annabelle Boudreau code an informational video about bear traps during the Hackergal Hackathon at Dunsmuir Middle School. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Young girls fight STEM stigma with hackathon

Three SD62 middle schools took part in the Hackergal Hackathon

Girls across Canada came together on Wednesday to explore coding and creativity in a nation-wide, virtual hack-a-thon.

Three schools in SD62 — Journey Middle School, Dunsmuir Middle School and John Stubbs Memorial School — gathered girls age 11 and 12 to participate in the Hackergal Hackathon.

The full-day program gives young girls the opportunity to create their own code for things like videos and games. Hackergal gives teachers and girls access to coding licenses and web-based tutorials before the event takes place so that on the day of, they are ready to go.

At Dunsmuir Middle School, girls were given the theme of environment and used computer codes to make games and videos that educate people about environmental issues.

Nicole Wallace teaches Grade 6 at Dunsmuir Middle School and said she heard about the hackathon from a teacher who participated in it last year.

Wallace said it’s a great opportunity for young girls because girls and women are under represented in STEM fields in both higher education and the workforce.

“It’s just not something that girls tend to see as an option for them so getting them interested in coding and programming early helps them say ‘oh I can do this,’” Wallace said.

According to Statistics Canada, women are less likely than men to choose a university program in STEM fields.

The number of women among STEM university graduates aged 25 to 34 in 2011 was 39 per cent. The proportion of women in STEM occupations requiring a university education in 2011 was 23 per cent.

Wallace said that although the girls had been silent all day as they worked away on their projects, they were really enjoying themselves.

Eleven-year-old Alicia Porter used code to make a game and quiz that shows an image of a polluted park that needs to be cleaned up. Porter said she hopes to continue with coding in the future and said she wants to be able to combine technology and animal conservation.

“Like using drones and better technology to get supplies to people who are out in the field conserving animal species,” Porter said. “This is kind of a really cool topic to work on.”

Annabelle Boudreau and Mikayla Morgan are both in Grade 6 and said they didn’t know they would like coding and computer science until they tried out the Hackergal program.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Boudreau said. “I’ve spent many, many hours at the computer trying to go through all the levels.”

Wallace said the day was filled with excitement and the girls involved spent it working hard on their ideas. She said things like this did not exist when she was in school.

“When I was in high school it was the ‘boys club’ and it wasn’t something that I pursued … but I regret that, I wish I had known and now I love it,” Wallace said. “Any way that I can include programming and robotics in my teaching I do.”

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com

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Eleven-year-olds Mikayla Morgan (right) and Annabelle Boudreau code an informational video about bear traps during the Hackergal Hackathon at Dunsmuir Middle School. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

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