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Code: SciGirls! Media to Engage Girls in Computing Pathways: 1712258

Principal Investigator: Rita Karl
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Karen Peterson, rebecca osborne
Organization: Twin Cities Public Television

Women continue to be underrepresented in computer science professions. In 2015, while 57% of professional occupations in the U.S. were held by women, only 25% of computing occupations were held by women. Furthermore, the share of computer science degrees going to women is smaller than any STEM field, even though technology careers are the most promising in terms of salaries and future growth. Research suggests that issues contributing to this lack of computer science participation begin early and involve complex social and environmental factors, including girls’ perception that they do not belong in computer science classes or careers. Computer science instruction often alienates girls with irrelevant curriculum; non-collaborative pedagogies; a lack of opportunities to take risks or make mistakes; and a heavy reliance on lecture instead of hands-on, project-based learning. Computer science experiences that employ research-based gender equitable best practices, particularly role modeling, can help diminish the gender gap in participation. In response to this challenge, Twin Cities PBS (TPT), the National Girls Collaborative (NGC) and Code.org will lead Code: SciGirls! Media for Engaging Girls in Computing Pathways, a three-year project designed to engage 8-13 year-old girls in coding through transmedia programming which inspires and prepares them for future computer science studies and career paths. The project includes five new PBS SciGirls episodes featuring girls and female coding professionals using coding to solve real problems; a new interactive PBSKids.org game that allows children to develop coding skills; nationwide outreach programming, including professional development for informal educators and female coding professionals to facilitate activities for girls and families in diverse STEM learning environments; a research study that will advance understanding of how the transmedia components build girls’ motivation to pursue additional coding experiences; and a third-party summative evaluation.

Code: SciGirls! will foster greater awareness of and engagement in computer science studies and career paths for girls. The PBS SciGirls episodes will feature girls and female computer science professionals using coding to solve real-world challenges. The project’s transmedia component will leverage the television content into the online space in which much of 21st century learning takes place. The new interactive PBSKids.org game will use a narrative framework to help children develop coding skills. Drawing on narrative transportation theory and character identification theory, TPT will commission two exploratory knowledge-building studies to investigate: To what extent and how do the narrative formats of the Code: SciGirls! online media affect girls’ interest, beliefs, and behavioral intent towards coding and code-related careers? The studies aim to advance understanding of how media builds girls’ motivation to pursue computer science experiences, a skill set critical to building tomorrow’s workforce. The project team will also raise educators’ awareness about the importance of gender equitable computer science instruction, and empower them with best practices to welcome, prepare and retain girls in coding. The Code: SciGirls! Activity Guide will provide educators with a relevant resource for engaging aspiring computer scientists. The new media and guide will also reside on PBSLearningMedia.org, reaching 1.2 million teachers, and will be shared with thousands of educators across the SciGirls CONNECT and National Girls Collaborative networks. The new episodes are anticipated to reach 92% of U.S. TV households via PBS, and the game at PBSKids.org will introduce millions of children to coding. The summative evaluation will examine the reach and impact of the episodes, game and new activities. PIs will share research findings and project resources at national conferences and will submit to relevant publications. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

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