Over the past couple years, but especially in the last few months, we’ve seen a spate of toys and games created to make basic computer programming concepts fun for kids. Late last year, we saw Minecraft get into the act with a new game included in Code.org’s list of Hour of Code games — short games that double as programming lessons. Lenovo is now using another Hour of Code game, Code Combat, to create their own early STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) education initiative, and they’re getting the word out with the help of a few brilliant women in those STEAM fields.
Since the beginning of March, Lenovo has been creating a series of videos in partnership with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, an organization that helps kids buck social pressures. One of those pressures is that girls and computers don’t mix — these videos prove otherwise. The first one went back in time to celebrate Betty Holberton, an early pioneer in computer programming, with the second celebrating the more recent work of Dr. Sheila Nirenberg of Cornell, who is using coding concepts to work on restoring sight to those with blindness.
If the first video looked at the past and the second looked at the present, it’s only right that the third and final video looks at the future. This week’s video follows girls involved with Girls Who Code, an organization that runs camps and after school programs that encourage girls to get into programming at a young age. In the video, they get a quick lesson from Professor Tracy Fullerton, the director of USC’s Game Innovation Lab.
Girls Who Code is helping to tackle what might be the most vexing problem of the STEAM gender gap. Games like Lenovo’s GameState can rope in the younger crowd, but interest from girls in pursuing STEAM studies falls off sharply during high school. “We need programs designed specifically to spark and sustain girls’ interest from middle school into the workforce,” said Claire Cook, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications at Girls Who Code. “Our free Clubs and Summer Immersion Programs do just that.”
Girls Who Code focuses on the whole pipeline — capturing the interest of younger kids with games and activities, then keeping that interest active and ultimately preparing girls to go after STEAM majors in college. That includes getting teachers involved — the organization designs their in-class programs to be understandable to anyone with general teaching experience, opening up more possibilities for teachers of various subjects to add coding to their curriculum.
The video produced alongside Lenovo is to help inspire girls of all ages to get interested in coding. “We hope everyone who sees the video will be as inspired as our members were when they visited Tracy to learn more about her innovative work as a game designer,” said Cook.
Meanwhile, Lenovo is looking to get girls to check out GameState. The game looks familiar — knights and adventures rolling through dungeons and castles — but it’s no usual action game. Players take stock of situations, then issue a string of commands to get their adventurer from point A to point B safely — coding 101. And, if kids check out Lenovo GameState before March 31, they could end up winning a $2,500 scholarship to coding camp or a number of other Lenovo prizes.
For their part, Lenovo is both encouraging girls and, no doubt, on the lookout for the next great minds that will benefit from organizations like Girls Who Code. “Lenovo is committed to creating opportunities for young people to explore STEAM-related fields,” said Ajit Sivadasan, Lenovo Vice President and General Manager for Global eCommerce. “…We hope the stories of these innovative women will inspire future generations to make their dreams reality.”