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GDI News

Winter 2002 Issue # 1
Self-confidence and competence in computing

Front Page

Teachers at Charlestown High School in Boston faced a dilemma--Chinese girls were not participating in advanced computer science classes. Their response changed the nature of the classroom and of the school as they moved from no involvement of girls to four girls taking top honors and scholarships for advanced study in computer science. All this in less than two years.

The Girls Project, an innovative effort within this Boston high school, is one of 20 Boston and Cambridge schools participating in the Gender Healthy/Respectful Schools project, funded by the Caroline and Sigmund Schott Foundation. The Gender and Diversities Institute provides technical assistance and action-reflection evaluation for the schools and the teacher teams. Each school team is exploring ways in which gender healthy, respectful classrooms can improve school environments, teaching, and learning for both girls and boys. The schools within this growing network represent all grades from elementary through secondary school and each addresses a different aspect of creating a gender-healthy environment, ranging from increasing girls' involvement with technology to peer-led training to prevent sexual harassment to integrating gender issues into bilingual instruction.

As one of these projects, the Charlestown Girls Project demonstrates the impact of concerned teachers implementing gender-equitable education. For the past two years, the focus of the project has been the development of computer skills, self-esteem, and self confidence of female Chinese students. Girls work closely with teachers in afterschool sessions designed to let them experience working with computers and with programming.

Mentoring, role models, and practical hands-on experience all play an integral part in influencing the students' perceptions about themselves as competent and engaged computer programmers. During semester breaks, Chinese women who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in computer science come to the school and share their experiences with the high school girls. They encourage girls to think about careers in the sciences and to see themselves as having fun with programming.

Field trips where girls can learn more and also demonstrate their own computer skills raised excitement and confidence. For example, students attended a technology fair at a local college. The fair underscored links between technology, math, English, and engineering, with teachers from the different fields demonstrating how these subjects are linked.

The results of this multi-faceted project are readily apparent. In one of the culminating activities for the year, girls designed computer games that adults could then try out as part of the Gender Healthy Respectful Schools annual Exposition. In addition, for the first time ever, the 2001 annual Charlestown High Tech Fair, which showcase students' computer science projects, awarded one of the top three prizes to a student from this project. At the end of the school year, four of five full scholarships given to Charlestown High students to attend Boston University were awarded to girls from this project. Two of these students chose to major in computer science.

Building on the success of this initial effort, teachers have now added outreach to Latino students, both girls and boys. The teacher team sees this as a milestone in creating a more inclusive program to increase the involvement of all underrepresented students in science and technology.

For more information on the Gender Healthy Respectful Schools project and on the work of the individual schools, contact Maria Paz B. Avery director by email, or by contacting her at 617–618–2341.

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