Marianne Smith is a Computer Science professor and former engineer. After more than 25 years in the field of computer science, including working for NASA, Marianne founded Code Girls United, a free after-school coding program for Montana girls.
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Identify a problem and provide a solution
Marianne was inspired to start the Code Girls United program after experiencing challenges in her own career, and observing limited opportunities for women in the field of computer science.
The geography of Montana, Marianne’s home state, makes things even more challenging as rural and reservation communities don’t have connections to industry and technology centers that are available in large cities.
Marianne saw a need, and stepped up to create Code Girls United, a non-profit after-school program designed to introduce 4th – 8th grade girls to computer science.
Developing apps (and confidence)
Code Girls United clubs meet weekly for about an hour after school. Some clubs take place in school and other clubs meet in libraries and community centers.
Each club is organized by a local sponsor such as a parent, teacher, or community member who is willing to coordinate with the students and the Code Girls United program.
The program is divided into two semesters. During the first semester, the girls learn the computer science basics through programs like Scratch and code.org.
During the second semester, the girls form teams of 3-5 and identify a community challenge that they can solve using their developing coding skills.
They work together to build an app, business, plan, and marketing material and share their prototype product with other teams and adults at the end of the year.
Several teams have entered their final projects into state and national coding competitions and in the spring of 2022 one team, the “coding caribous” made it to the semi-finals of the Technovation coding competition.
Learning how to code is only a small part of the Code Girls United program. The girls also learn how to write a business plan and present their ideas to others, skills that are essential for future success in many different fields.
Starting your own coding program
Right now, the Code Girls United program is only available in the state of Montana, serving rural and reservation communities that lack resources in the field of computer science.
The curriculum assembled by Marianne and the Code Girls team has evolved over many years of work and research, which she generously shared during our conversation.
MIT App inventor is the backbone of the program, providing access to a user-friendly coding interface, with the ability to test development on inexpensive mobile phones.
The opportunity to enter an app into state and national competitions provides some external motivation. The Technovation challenge is a special opportunity for girls while the Congressional App Challenge is national competitions open to all students. It is also worth researching local challenges in your state our county.