Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Encouraging More Girls (and Boys) to Explore Engineering, Technology and Coding

I have six grandchildren and as they grow older their interests become clearer. All love learning, but not all have the same learning interests. Even when they were very young, some would love to dig in the compost heap with me, and others, not so much. Some would bring every insect inside to examine it, others were less keen. One still heads to our upstairs living area where all the books are, so it isn't hard to find her at mealtimes. Her brother loves books too but when he was young, he was always more likely to head to the back yard (garden) to dig around, look to the sky for birds and so on. His interests have broadened in recent years.

All my grandchildren love books in their own way, but have different tastes, genres that they like and so on. Interestingly, one granddaughter loves books and writing, and is also interested in coding and is very good at mathematics. A younger grandson already shows incredible early talent in coding and computing and has more recently discovered books. All children are different, but I suspect all could code if taught well. What will the girls and boys in our families become? All will have varied interests in life. But vocationally, what might they become? Research evidence suggests that statistically, my grandson has more likelihood of ending up in a career where he will use his strengths in STEM, particularly coding, than my granddaughter. I see this is a problem, because computer coding will be such a critical language to know and use in the future in varied careers. In fact Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is so critical to the future and gender diversity in this field is important.

Gwendolin Tilghman who is a Senior Investment Analyst at Viking Global Investors, wrote an interesting post last year that I shared on LinkedIn at the time, which argued for proactive efforts to get more girls into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She writes:

"I have always been interested in topics relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). So, when I started college and was able to learn any subject of my choosing, it was no surprise that I decided to pursue an engineering degree. However, what was surprising was that I seemed to be the only girl to do so, or at least that’s how it felt sitting in a room full of boys throughout many of my classes. Perhaps it should not have been because even though women now represent 47% of the workforce, only 12% engineers are females." 

Clearly action is necessary to encourage girls and young women to consider careers that build on their knowledge and interest in STEM. One the most critical needs will be to encourage girls with an early interest in science and maths to explore coding.

Gwendoline is part of the 'Girls Who Code' initiative in the USA that is seeking to close the gender gap in technology. She comments:

Get Coding (Walker Books)

Where can we start to inspire young girls (and boys as well) to explore coding?  There are some great resources appearing on the market that will help. I was sent a great little book about 6 months ago designed for primary or elementary school children - Get Coding (Walker Books) that has been produced by Young Rewired State (see below). This is a wonderful little book, it made me want to get to a computer, and to start doing some coding myself.

It is well designed and very inviting. Each page combines text, step by step instructions and projects to undertake. The first 15 pages are text-based with some headings, pictures and diagrams to make sense of the limited amount of the word descriptions. The reading level is about 8-10 years. Once the reader is through this introduction they can begin a series of missions with Professor Harry Bairstone, 'a famous explorer' who is '... in desperate need of [our] help'. Once we are introduced to the mystery of the lost 'Monk Diamond', we are ready to code our way towards completing our mission. Yes, we will need to know what HTML tags are. And we will learn how to use them as we learn to write HTML code, on our way towards completing the mission. Very soon, we are writing the code for a simple web page, with text and images. Eventually we build our own 'Monk Diamond Discovery Web Page'.

By Mission 5 our young coders will be making their own game 'The House of Volkov's Security Team' that is responsible for protecting some valuable jewels on display in the The House of Volkov'.

This is wonderful stuff, and should be part of every child's primary school education.

Information of Young Rewired State

Young Rewired State was created in 2009 and is a network of 3000 data specialists with a female founder - Emma Mulqueeny. It has 30% female developers with 60% aged 18-25. It has an interesting methodology based on the principle of rapid prototyping, using the MVP concept of working towards a minimum viable product (MVP). It runs events and programs for technically gifted young people aged 18 and under. It draws together young developers, designers, and those with other technical skills to build projects (mainly phone and web applications) that attempt to solve real world problems. Most of the developers participating in Young Rewired State events have taught themselves or learned coding skills outside the traditional school curriculum.

Information about Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code is a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology. Its programs inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. They have been especially effective in impacting skills development for girls in their formative years. At the completion of this academic year, Girls Who Code will have reached 40,000 girls in total, covering all 50 US states during its five-year history. In fact, an impressive 93 percent of their summer program participants said that they now want to major in, or are interested in, computer science because of their participation in the program — this might well mean that for woman in the future that they might not be in such a minority in Coding, Technology and Engineering classrooms!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Five fantastic new picture books for 2-7 Year Olds

This is my latest review of five wonderful new picture books. These 5 books will inspire and entertain young readers. My blog has recently been listed on Feed Spot as one of the Top 100 Children's Book Blogs globally.

1. 'Isla's Family Tree' by Katrina McKelvey & illustrated by Prue Pittock


This delightful book tells the all too common story of a first child whose Mum is expecting a second. Isla's family is changing and she's not too happy! Isla already thinks her family "is too full!" But her mother has an idea. She creates a clever family tree to teach Isla how to accept the growth in her family.

Her mother makes a paper tree and explains where their new baby should go. Isla doesn’t think they belong. "There’s no room left on our branch — it’s full!" she says. She tries to make them fit, and places them on Aunty Violet's branch, and then with her cousins, at Aunty Violet and Aunty Jasmine’s house. Maybe at Aunty Daisy and Uncle Doug’s? She is convinced that there is no room on her branch!

Eventually, she accepts that the baby can fit on their branch. Her Mum replies, so where do these TWO leaves belong? "Two leaves? Two babies!" she gasped. But she falls in love and says to her Mum, "our branch grew a little ... our family is never too full." And when she meets her new brothers she quickly accepts and loves them.

This lovely story is well supported by Prue Pittock's delightfully simple and expressive line and minimalist use of colour. This is a lovely book for any child with siblings, but perfect for any family that needs to introduce new family members, or to help them understand what a family is.

2. 'Bedtime Daddy' by Sharon Giltrow & illustrated by Katrin Dreiling

Any parent who has had to handle children at bedtime will instantly appreciate this delightful picture book. But this book has a serious twist, it isn't children who resist going to be, it's really Daddy!

"Putting Daddy to bed can be hard work. Especially when he starts crying! This story will show you how to wrestle your daddy into his pajamas and read just one more bedtime story. 'I’m thirrrrrrrrssssssty,' says Daddy. 'I need to poop … I’m hungry … But I’ll miss you,' he says, while he looks at you with cutie eyes."



Katrina Dreiling's crayon illustrations have a 'softness' that matches the text perfectly. This will be an instant favourite that will need to be read and reread by Daddy's, I mean "Children"!! Those Daddy's can be so frustrating! A funny and engaging picture book at readers 1-5 will love.

3. 'Ten Little Figs' by Rhian Williams & illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

A child sits beneath a large fig tree and tries to count them. He has a plan to get the figs with his ladder. But others have their eyes on his figs. He watches as the figs disappear one by one.

He counts down the figs on the backyard fig tree, as each one is snatched away by a different Australian animal.

Ten little figs are on my tree.
I love figs and they're all for me.
A flying fox dives, fast and low.
Where, of where, did that fig go?

Nine of the ten figs are eventually claimed by an assortment of Australian creatures. Leaf-curling spiders, Zebra finches, Green Ants, Rainbow Lorikeets, a Wombat, Hercules Moths, an Echidna, Spotted-tailed Quoll. Just one remains but it's too high in the tree. Who will get that very last fig? Luckily Dad comes to the rescue and surprises his little one with the very last fig.

4. 'Old Enough to Save the Planet' by Loll Kirby & illustrated by Adelina Lirius

I just love this inspiring book, based on the passions and projects of real children looking at how all of us have responsibility for the ecological well-being of our planet. While it has a strong call to address climate change, it goes much further than this by sharing the projects of children challenging other children as well as adults and leaders to address the varied challenges to our world caused by human waste, pollution, deforestation, culling wildlife, polluting our waterways and oceans, saving our fresh waterways, reintroducing native plant species and grasses, reducing traffic pollution, reusing waste and much more.

The publisher's blurb is a bit misleading. Yes, the positive impacts that these children suggest will help to stop climate change, a but these young activists don't mention climate change, they aren't chanting slogans. They have simply got in and sought to make a difference to their world for the good of all. And yes, if we do these things (and more) we will help to arrest climate change. Read their stories of action! For example:

  • Felix from Germany is passionate about reforestation
  • Hunter from South Africa is trying to protect Rhinos
  • Himangi from India is taking action to reduce traffic pollution outside her school
  • Vincent from France has created a community garden to reduce food waste
  • Jordan from the USA is fighting against palm oil products to help save native forests
  • Shalise from Australia is campaigning to protect our oceans from human pollution

5. 'To the Bridge' by Corinne Fenton & illustrated by Andrew McLean

The award-winning team of Corinne Fenton and Andrew McLean tell the story of Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick, a boy and his pony who crossed Sydney's Harbour Bridge on 19th of March, 1932 and marched into history.

Any child who has been inspired by human ingenuity and invention will relate to this book. Whether it was the Moon Landing, people scaling Everest, deep sea exploration, or scientific discovery, many 6-12 year olds have been captured by great events in history. In this Aussie picture book, Nine-year-old Lennie Gwyther from an Australian farm in rural Leongatha was captivated by the steel arch bridge to span Sydney Harbour. With his father's blessing, he rode his pony 'Ginger Mick' across Australia, inspiring crowds of supporters to greet him in cities along the way, as he made his way to Sydney. It was there that he saw the bridge that had captivated his imagination and inspired his brave journey. And it was then that he and Ginger Mick became a legend. As a child in the 1950s I can recall my grandfather talking about 'Ginger Mick' with no idea what on earth he meant! Now I know.

This is an inspiring true story about a young boy who rode a cross a continent with persistence, resilience, bravery, courage and hope. Many children have big dreams, this book might just inspire some other children to pursue their own.