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Technology Nonprofit Teaches Coding to Brooklyn Girls

By Camille Bautista | December 10, 2014 8:57am
 Fifth-graders at P.S. 21 in Brooklyn participated in an Hour of Code computer science lesson, hosted by new STEM nonprofit, Digital Girl Inc. 
Fifth-graders at P.S. 21 in Brooklyn participated in an Hour of Code computer science lesson, hosted by new STEM nonprofit, Digital Girl Inc. 
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Science teacher Donna Johnson watched with pride as her students played Angry Birds in class.

Fifth-graders at P.S. 21 in Brooklyn cheered as the little red characters stomped around on their computer screens as part of this week’s Hour of Code campaign, a global initiative introducing kids to computer science.

Johnson joined Michelle Gall, executive director of nonprofit Digital Girl, Inc., to conduct the coding sessions in conjunction with the organization’s soft launch on Tuesday.

“I noticed a dire need for children, particularly young girls, to be exposed to technology and pursue occupations that are outside of the box,” Gall said.

She founded Digital Girl in November in an effort to empower “underserved” girls in Bedford-Stuyvesant to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, careers.

There has been a significant increase in men with computing degrees in the recent years, with 103,985 degrees and certificates for men in 2012 compared to 74,943 in 2007, according to a Change the Equation report.

Meanwhile, degrees awarded to women in that same time period only increased by a little more than 6,000.

Digital Girl seeks to close such gaps, Gall said.

“I wanted to do something close to home and I know there is a need for that here,” she added. 

The lack of gifted-and-talent programs in Central Brooklyn also spurred Gall’s desire to provide opportunities for local students.

“When you consider that women who pursue careers in STEM actually make about 30 percent more than women who don’t, and the Bed-Stuy population is 54 percent female — there’s a direct correlation of uplifting women and in turn, uplifting the community,” Gall said.

Using Code.org’s puzzle tutorials, Gall and Digital Girl consultant Toni Robinson showed four classes the basics of command codes through Angry Bird and Plants vs. Zombies games.

Fifth-graders clicked and dragged instructional blocks to navigate characters and follow a series of steps to continue to the next level. At the start of one session, only two children said they had known about coding.

“I think coding is a good way for kids to learn different things in academics,” said Mya Colbert, 10. “I think we should add a little more of it in school.”

P.S. 21 recently implemented a new STEM lab for students, allowing kids to use data logging tools to analyze elements such as temperature and blood pressure.

“I try to tell kids, it’s not just about playing games, it’s about being able to make them,” Johnson said.

Digital Girl Inc. will continue instructional sessions for fourth-graders on Wednesday as part of Hour of Code.

The volunteer team hopes continued interest will bring after-school coding classes to P.S. 21 and neighboring schools.