When you own a software development company and you lead a foundation that encourages young
girls to learn to code, you’re often asked about how we can get enough coders among our population. In
fact, it seems that at most dinner parties we attend there’s at least one parent in the room that asks
about how to help teach their children to develop technology skills. One team at Carnegie Mellon
University (CMU) must have been asked the same thing, as they’ve come up with one option. They call it
According to their website, Alice is designed to teach logical and computational thinking skills,
fundamental principles of programming and to be a first exposure to object-oriented programming. It’s
used by teachers but can easily be led by parents-as-teachers as well. Most start at middle school level,
although it has regularly been used with younger children – and even those at university level.
Designed to provide the basics coding and software design, it includes game development but is also
used to expand understanding of both logical and creative thinking. Studies done at CMU found proven
benefits in engaging and retaining diverse and under-served groups in computer science education.
In and of itself, Alice is a fabulous teaching environment. The Alice Project as a whole, however, also
provides supplemental tools and materials for teaching using Alice across a spectrum of ages and
subject matter. They have established an active community, wherein teachers of all sorts interact to
provide ideas and applications and talk through concerns or questions.
Alice starts with a simple drag-and-drop approach, to make the concept of programming less daunting.
Students (and teachers!) progress quickly to develop stories through animation and sound, and
ultimately even build games.
If you’ve ever had to name a product or a company in the past 20 years, you know how difficult it is to
settle on something that’s not already taken. While many girls could be Alice Smith, there’s only one
alicesmith.com, and acquiring the registered trademark is a complex process.
As the creative folk at CMU tried to express this program, they thought, of course, of storytelling. Who
better to embody the idea of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Carroll, a
mathematician, novelist, and photographer, could do intellectually difficult things but also realized the
most powerful thing was to be able to communicate clearly and in an entertaining way. This inspired
CMU’s efforts to make something complex (programming) easy and fun.
As they describe on their site, the name is also a very practical choice. The artwork associated with the
Alice books is now in the public domain, its copyright having lapsed. Also, the name “Alice” has several
other advantages: easy to spell and pronounce, it shows up at the top of alphabetized lists. Great
It’s so important to offer programming as a key still today that CMU has found a way to make this
project a gift. In other words, it may cost you in time and energy, but there is no financial outlay. It’s
So, no matter the age of your children, go take a look at Alice. There may be a great storyteller inside
your child’s mind, once they have the tools. You’ll find a link to it on our Foundation website, under
Cucalorus, PS Solutions reached 90 students, mostly girls, ages 8-14.
The Cucalorus Festival brought a digital literacy program to local elementary and middle school students with a mobile Kids Coding Workshop. Students at Snipes Academy, Wrightsboro Elementary and GLOW Academy were given an opportunity to write simple codes that programmed and controlled super-small computers, or Arduinos. The program was sponsored by the PS Solutions Foundation.
“Coding is the language of computers,” explained Rob Hill, a filmmaker and Cucalorus outreach educator, as he led students at Snipes to engage in the programming exercise. “A computer program, or code, is a set of instructions that a computer follows to complete a task.” Leading the students through the coding program, Hill provided guidance to connect a circuit board to the computer and then program the computer to tell the circuit board to light up.
The workshops were scheduled over three days reaching some 90 students, mostly girls, ages 8 to 14. According to Wayne Hippo, managing partner of PS Solutions, “the girls tend to flourish and engage more readily without boys in the room. We want girls to see that computer science is a fun and gratifying field of study, and workshops such as these give them a good hands-on opportunity to learn and grow confident with new skills.”
Indeed, the girls showed immediate delight when lights flashed as a result of their coding exercise.
There is urgency to drawing more girls into fields of computer science. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment of software developers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. A tech talent vacuum means many of the jobs go unfilled, so broadening the pool of candidates is critical to U.S. competitiveness.
“Ultimately, we hope by providing young girls with experiences such as the Cucalorus Kids Coding Workshop, they might later consider studying for a career in computer science or programming,” Hippo said. “You never know when you are opening a door to possibilities that might otherwise never have been considered,” he says.
PS Solutions’ Foundation is a nonprofit committed to developing young girls’ interest in software engineering.
The coding workshops were part of Cucalorus Connect, an interactive convergence of technology entrepreneurship and creative arts. Expanding the festival’s media literacy programming, the digital literacy outreach works to draw people into the world of digital sciences, arts and communications.
PS Solutions is a software development firm that recently expanded to Wilmington from its Pennsylvania headquarters.
On February 28, 2017, the President signed the “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Act” into law. The primary aim of the bill is to compel the director of NASA to encourage women and girls to study within the STEM fields. The purpose of this act is to support NASA and help women to consider and pursue a career in aerospace. NASA will use three initiatives to support the efforts; the NASA GIRLS AND NASA BOYS programs, Aspire to Inspire, and the Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research.
The INSPIRE Act is one additional step in what needs to be a comprehensive approach to break down the glass ceiling for women in many STEM fields. We currently have a tremendous shortage of US trained personnel to fill the many opportunities in STEM fields. The US is currently losing thousands of jobs overseas, simply because we don’t have trained people to do the work required. While not anywhere near a cure for the problem INSPIRE is a step in the right direction. The fastest fix to this problem is to make sure that women are given every opportunity to go after what are often traditionally male opportunities in the STEM fields.
PS Solutions Foundation is dedicated to helping young girls get exposure to STEM opportunities, particularly software engineering in the hopes that they will be encouraged to pursue the field as they work through their educational path. PS Solutions Foundation has provided scholarships for girls participating in science camps at Penn State Altoona.
The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act was signed into law on February 28, 2017. It was one of two bills designed to encourage woman to pursue careers in science and business fields. This Act allows the National Science Foundation to encourage entrepreneurial programs for women. These programs will allow women the opportunity to strive for careers in the STEM fields from the lab to the commercial world.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while women make up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, they only hold 25.6 percent of computer and mathematical occupations and only 15.4 percent of architecture and engineering occupations. At the college level, women only earn 18 percent of computer science degrees.
Founded in 2012, PS Solutions Foundation focuses local efforts at encouraging young women to develop an interest in software engineering. The Foundation partners with educational providers to engage the young women so they can explore Computer Science and hopefully one day strive for a career within the field. There is a large opportunity for women within the STEM fields and this Act will hopefully be only one step in a comprehensive plan to help grow those opportunities for women.
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