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Girls Who Code Club brings computer science to life in a meaningful way
Girls Who Code Club brings computer science to life in a meaningful way
Posted on 06/28/2018
Girls standing in front of Ebeling logoYou can learn a lot from a stuffed bear – especially one that comes to life thanks to the coding work of a group of innovative group of Utica Community Schools sixth graders.  

The stuffed bears at Ebeling Elementary – named Jackson ad Charlotte – share important messages about relaxation and have been brought to life thanks to the computer science work of the school’s Girls Who Code club. 

The Ebeling Girls Who Code Club, formed this year as part of a districtwide initiative, used computer science to create a service project that they felt would help the elderly and the young. 

“I wasn’t very interested in coding at first, but this changed my mind,” said Ebeling sixth-grader Tessa Kolakowski. “I started doing it and realized it was really fun. You create anything.”

The Girls Who Code clubs were introduced throughout UCS this year as part of a partnership with the national 

The clubs address the national gender gap in computer science by promoting technology and coding for students exploring future careers.

Nationally, it is estimated there are nearly 500,000 high paying computer science jobs available and only 42,000 entering the workforce.

Of those computer science college graduates, only one of five are females, according to Girls Who Code. Currently, only 24 percent of the computer science workforce are women with projections that will fall to 22 percent by 2025.

“The club allows the girls to see how coding works and consider that yes, maybe this is a career that is meant for me,” said Ebeling media specialist Michelle Rizzo. “We want to open the eyes of these girls to see how coding impacts the future.”

The 14-member club met with Rizzo and Ebeling sixth grade teacher Christine Holden to learn more about coding and the history of pioneer female computer scientists. The students used their computer science lessons to create a project – the talking stuffed bears that shared messages about how to relax through music and breathing exercises.

Holden said the club members came together quickly to focus on a project that will help their community.

“It was really amazing to see how they gelled,” she said.  “As a teacher, it was great to see how far they came together in six months.”

Club members said that it took “a lot of brainstorming” to come up with their coding project.
The bears were introduced to their parents at a special presentation held June 27 in the Ebeling media center. 

Mya Pieper explained that the students used a digital device called “raspberry pi,” which allowed them to show calming pictures and sounds from the bear.

The students programmed their messages through an online program called Scratch. A device called “Makey Makey” was then used to transport the sounds from Scratch to the bear and make it interactive. 

The students worked with Ebeling parent Elizabeth Ignace, who conducted a training referred to as "Mindfulness" that helps reduce stress and anxiety. The students wrote and recorded the scripts. 

One example of a message from the bears focused on breathing exercises.

Touch a button on his foot, and Jackson the bear says: “Sit somewhere you will be undisturbed. Close your eyes gently. Take a few minutes to get in touch with your breath. This will help you bring awareness.”
Through the project, students said they realized the extent to which computer science impacts their life. 

 “I used to just think of it as something like YouTube, but now I know it is bigger than that,” said Elina Ayoub. 

Sixth-grader Margaret Johnson said she had a standard message for those who mention the challenges she could face with a gender gap in computer science careers. 

“I told them I don’t care – I really like coding,” she said.