Helping to shape the future byteaching code

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Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, addresses a group of industry leaders, tech experts and teachers at a meeting at UFT headquarters on May 28.

Miller Photography

After the meeting, Sterling Roberson, the UFT vice president for career and technical education high schools, confers with Dawn Barber, the co-founder of NY Tech Meetup, an organization representing professionals from all parts of the New York technology community.

Despite the many challenges our schools and our union face, career and technical education continues to flourish.

Seven new CTE schools will open in the 2013–2014 school year. We already have more than 400 CTE programs citywide, with many more on the way. We are also hard at work building new partnerships with industry leaders to enhance our programs in the schools and help our students more easily make the transition to the world of work upon graduation.

One example is the exciting new partnership we have formed with Girls Who Code to create an auxiliary group, Teachers Who Code. The mission of Girls Who Code is simple, but difficult to achieve: teach 1 million girls to code.

Launched last year to address gender inequities in computer science, an important — and growing — field in which women are dramatically underrepresented, the group’s two-month curriculum began over the summer with 20 girls. It will expand to 160 this summer, with programs opening in San Francisco and Detroit.

The UFT has always been committed to promoting technology in the classroom, building technological skills among our students and supporting female students who choose to enter nontraditional fields. That’s part of our history in CTE, and it is why I am particularly proud to announce this new partnership.

The gender inequity in computer science is already apparent in high school. Girls typically account for 60 percent of AP exam test-takers, but on last year’s computer science AP exam they accounted for only 30 percent. Just one in four students in the New York City school system’s top tech programs are girls. And, nationwide, fewer than 15 percent of female 12th-graders expressed interest in working in technology.

Girls Who Code is a great idea that will benefit our students, our communities and our economy. But, as its founder Reshma Saujani has said, it won’t succeed if we don’t have enough educators prepared to make it a reality.

Teachers Who Code will help fill that gap. Girls Who Code is helping us train 20 teachers in the basics of coding so that they can bring their skills back to their schools and start Girls Who Code clubs. Those who participate may not learn enough to teach computer programming, but they’ll have the background and support necessary to introduce students to the world of coding.

With only 1,500 computer science teachers in the entire country, this is an invaluable opportunity for teachers to enhance their own skills and to make a major contribution to their students’ education.

The one-week training course will be hosted by our partners at AppNexus. Participants will spend three days on site with one of our computer science industry partners. The curriculum will be based on the eight-week curriculum used by Girls Who Code.

Nearly 500,000 STEM-related jobs are projected to be created in New York State by 2018, and the bulk of them will be in computer science. That means jobs for students with the appropriate skills and a boost for our economy when those students go on to become consumers, taxpayers and productive citizens.

Dave Griffin, a teacher at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science in the Bronx, was introduced to Girls Who Code by Farheen Malik, the UFT’s educational liaison in the Bronx and a major proponent of the program. Griffin recruited six students to apply to the program, one of whom was accepted. He said discovering the program was especially important for his school since, although they are a college prep school focused on math and science, they don’t have a computer science program.

“The girls I encounter in my science classes are every bit as capable as male students and seem to have every bit as much desire to learn about science fields,” he told me. “They just need the opportunity. Socially or culturally there tends to be a big roadblock for girls — ‘Go no further.’ So I think this is a great way to get them interested and exposed to science fields.”

It will take industry leaders, tech experts and teachers working together to make this project a reality. That’s why we joined with AppNexus and Girls Who Code to convene a meeting of stakeholders and secure their support for the program. They’ll play a critical role, helping to develop and refine the program’s curriculum and “adopting” a teacher participating in the program and his or her Girls Who Code club.

Partners will be expected to host their adopted teacher for three days of on-site training after their week at AppNexus, sponsor a site visit for their adopted Girls Who Code club, visit the club in school to discuss their company and assign a mentor for their adopted teacher.

This is industry partnership — and CTE — at its best.

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