Nonprofit Teaches Girls to Code and Build Websites

CodeEd, a New York-based volunteer program that teaches middle school girls how to code using HTML and CSS, plans to expand its curriculum to include object-oriented programming such as JavaScript and Python.

The girls participating in the program have quickly learned coding and building Websites. “They code it all themselves,” says Angie Schiavoni, co-founder of CodeEd. “They are programming like a real coder would.”

While the key component of the project-based curriculum is developing a Website, the work occurs collaboratively, and much of the learning is peer-based. Volunteers with technical skills head into schools in underserved communities, and CodeEd provides them with curriculum and course materials.

CodeEd was launched in 2010 on the premise that more girls should be introduced to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and understand that computer science does not have to be a frightening or overwhelming field. As the CodeEd Website points out, as of 2008, only 7 percent of middle-school girls considered computer engineering a desirable career.

“Our goal is to spark an interest at an early age,” Schiavoni explains. “We make the classes unintimidating so that when the girls hear about similar opportunities in the future, they will want to take another class.”

CodeEd’s curriculum comes from a social computing course that Schiavoni’s husband, Sep Kamvar, the other co-founder of Code-Ed, taught at Stanford. He now teaches in MIT’s Media Lab, but the curriculum and course materials used by CodeEd are free under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

At some partner schools, the modular curriculum is introduced through a daylong program; at others, it’s presented once a week. It depends on how the educational partner wants the instruction incorporated.

Initially started in New York City, CodeEd now has other teams of volunteers teaching coding in Boston and San Francisco. These volunteers, who use the computer infrastructure in place at the schools, use team teaching so that when one teacher is at the board, the other checks the students’ work.

Girls in the fifth grade and higher have learned how to format tags, make new Web pages with Unix commands and create a basic navigation bar using HTML. Creativity and self-expression are important and help stave off the impression of coding as “scary, hard work,” according to Schiavoni.

When the instruction is complete, students present their Webpages to peers and parents. Since its inception, between 75 and100 girls a year have learned to code through CodeEd.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to watch these girls come into the classes with no idea what they’re doing and, by the end, be excited by what they’ve built,” Schiavoni says.

A new partnership with Entelo, a social-based talent recruiting company, could expand the program further. For every new hire made by a customer, Entelo plans to donate a year’s worth of CodeEd education for one girl.

“Our partnership with Entelo is going to make it much easier to train more girls,” Schiavoni says. “And I think it will spur other companies to have similar innovative ways to give back to the community.”