Foxcroft School Works to Spur Girls’ Interest in Computer Programming

As an all-girls school, Foxcroft in Middleburg has taken a special interest in nudging young women toward computer science.

The 100-year-old boarding school hosted a coding event Friday evening for middle school girls, called Jump into Game Design. The four-hour event drew 50 girls to the school’s library to learn the ins and outs of computer programming.

In a free workshop led by Foxcroft STEM Department Chair Maria Evans, the budding coders created their own Frogger arcade game in a 3D gaming environment using their laptops and an online tool called AgentCubes.

Instead of learning the sometimes-dry nuts and bolts of writing code, the game design program shows the students the end result of programming without having to type in any coding language, explained Susan Erba, former Foxcroft Math Department chair who helped put on the program.

The students designed everything from what their frog would look like and the landscape on which it would jump to the trucks it had to avoid. Then, they gave each of the objects actions, including telling the trucks how fast they would travel along the road.

Foxcroft STEM Department Chair Maria Evans guides middle school girls through a lesson in coding. [Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now]
Foxcroft STEM Department Chair Maria Evans guides middle school girls through a lesson in coding. [Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now]
“These are all things you’d have to think about when programming,” Erba said. Seeing the end goal of writing code may actually prompt the girls to want to learn to more about programming, she added.

Emma Pell, an eighth-grade student at Powhatan School in Boyce, said she didn’t know a thing about coding until she attended the event at Foxcroft. “It sounded interesting, so I thought I’d check it out,” she said. “I really like it. It’s cool that you can create a game kind of from scratch.”

The idea to hold a coding event was prompted by Erba and Evans after they attended training at University of Colorado that was designed to teach instructors how to prompt interest in computer science among their students. The university is undergoing a major research project on how to get more young people to go into computer science-related careers.

Following the training, Erba and Evans were talking about how women make up such a small percentage of employees working in the field. “We were thinking, how are we going to get these young women excited about computer science. By college, it’s too late,” Erba said.

With the help of a grant from the University of Colorado and support from Foxcroft, they put on the Jump into Game Design program, something they are considering turning into an annual event.

Foxcroft’s push in recent years to get more girls interested in STEM has already had an impact. One student, senior Reilly Candard of Philomont, said she didn’t know what she wanted to do for a career until last month when she enrolled in a computer science course.

“Now I know, I want to study computer science—just within the last month,” she said. Candard and several of her classmates helped guide the middle school girls during Friday’s coding event, something she said she hopes to see more of. “I think the earlier girls get to see what programming is like, the earlier they might find they have an interest in it.”

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