Why is it so hard to get girls to study computing?

At my school, an independent all-girls school, there are 3 Computing electives: one in years 9-10 – Information and Software Technology (IST)  and two in years 11-12 Software Design and Development (SDD) and Information Processes and Technology (IPT). I started in this school this year and I was told that while SDD had been offered for years, there were never enough girls to viably run it year-on-year.  We only have IST and IPT at the moment …and for how long?

One doesn’t have to look hard to know that there are initiatives to get more girls into computing, in general, and into software engineering, in particular. For example, Sydney Uni runs Girls Programming Network, UNSW has Robogals, TAFE has Digi-Girls (program seems to have stopped) and Google has BOLD diversity program. Strangely though, my precursory look indicate that Computer Science or Software Engineering degrees don’t seem to include computing subjects as pre-requisites….how will students know if it’s for them if they haven’t been exposed to it previously (just wondering)?

Why is it so hard to get girls to study computing?

Fact is, there’s no easy answer….which means, there’s no easy solution. But first, some ideas on the problem.

Not counting conversations I’ve had on Twitter particularly with @asher_wolf, the following articles I read recently are indicative of the complexity of this issue.

  1. To my daughter’s HS programming teacher – by Rikki Endsley (a woman in IT) about her daughter’s awful experience of sexism whilst still in high school (tbh, there were more issues in that school)
  2. Titstare app at Techcrunch – report/outrage over a showcased app that lets you ‘stare at tits’
  3. The Brogrammer Effect – looking at why there are even fewer women in IT now than in the 1990s; also contains some positive ideas
  4. What it’s like to be a woman in Y Combinator – an interview with Nikki Durkin, creator of 99Dresses; i.e. a success story of a woman in IT and I’ll get back to this article because she has some positive ideas
  5. Terri Oda, Mathematician, debunks ‘women are bad in math’ [sic] myth – includes a brilliant, entertaining and informative slideshow debunking assumptions that the lack of women in STEM fields is due to being worse at science and math

Before I was a teacher, I was also a woman in IT. Luckily, I was never subjected to any of the sexism that Endsley’s daughter had or even Durkin who was “denied” programming electives, being offered Textiles instead (ironically, I teach both at my school).  Durkin is quite upbeat about being in the minority saying it is an advantage because she stands out more and THAT is important for entrepreneurs. And like me, she also hasn’t suffered sexism – the cynics will probably add ‘yet’ to that. My wish for her is that she never does especially in a way that would hurt her positive spirit. This is to say that even though I didn’t suffer from it, I acknowledge that it exists. This is important because when I talk to my students about careers in IT, I can tell them of these 2 sides to the story….as well as some strategies to address it.

Durkin mentioned that part of the problem is that girls aren’t exposed to it. This was also mentioned in The Brogrammer Effect. These 2 articles confirmed my theory which inspired me to change the existing course scope to include software programming  (see related post); that was a risk because girls chose this elective thinking it will be on Digital Media and web design…no mention of coding. Anyway, as it turned out, most of the girls loved it….actually more than I thought.

Endsley’s daughter was lucky to have her mum talk about careers in IT. Most girls don’t have people talking to them about it/IT. As one lady said in The Brogrammer Effect, women just don’t know about the perks of working in IT like flexible hours and “work on amazing projects with amazing people” – certainly an experience I could relate to as well.

…..I’m beginning to sound nostalgic about a past career….let’s move on….

I needed to write this now to reflect on my practice and will use the Stop, Start, Change, Continue framework for some future actions….and this is where your ideas could come in really handy….please make suggestions.


  • feeling so depressed about the situation; that doesn’t lead to anything but ….well, feeling depressed


  • talking to girls outside of my computing classes about the benefits of studying computing…and that doesn’t mean going into an IT career. Computational thinking is beneficial in and of itself
  • building a community of students who can pursue such interests


  • searching for ideas to understand and solve the issue
  • connecting with women in IT like @asher_wolf and @kcarruthers  who could be mentors as well as moral support (think: this is worth fighting for so don’t give up)
  • connecting with fellow computing teachers and participating in #ozcschat
  • trying to inspire current computing students
  • seeking help


  • computing course scope to include more Computer Science stuff; after all, students already do plenty of movie-making and web-designing in other subjects


Can you help me here please?

OR should I just give up…and go back to IT (that’s adding 1 to women in IT, right?)…or maybe teaching Maths?

Was it a waste of time?

My year 10s had just had their storyboards assessed and approved.

They were supposed to get started with planning for the next  stage of their multimedia projects; maybe even get started developing components of it.


My year 10s were visibly unsettled today at period 1. They said they had an English assessment next period – speech. They exchanged stories of how late they went to bed to get this ready and the ‘winner’ (not in my class) went to bed at 4:30 a.m. How anyone could function with such little sleep is beyond me!

We ploughed through the work that needed to be done but they were easily distracted and not really focusing.


In the end, I succumbed and gave them the last half hour of the lesson to practice for their speeches. They had to pretend it’s the real thing so they had to perform in front of everyone as against doing it quietly in their own ‘corner’.  I figured, they weren’t really being productive in my subject so they might as well be productive in something.

Here’s a gist of what happened:

  • I had a glimpse of their creativity, literacy and thinking skills in another context (English)
  • Students took on roles voluntarily as time-keeper and editors
  • Students gave each other constructive feedback
  • I gave constructive feedback
  • Students felt more settled and ready to face their assessment, even those who did not perform but still got editing help
  • We’ve got a concrete example of positive collaboration – one I’m going to keep promoting in MY class

Part of me feels like I’ve been sucked in. Yet, was it really a waste of time?

Making progress

Maybe I miss teaching maths as I feel compelled to use some mathematical terms and concepts in this post about how my (non-Maths) PBLs mentioned in the previous post, are progressing. Oh, and this is inspired by this video on dissociating learning from performance, linked to me by the wonderful Kelli McGraw (@kmcg2375) who constantly pushes my academic thinking, among others.

Anyway, I had to watch that video lots and lots and lots of times. What really hooked me was this notion of variability as aid to learning and transference, even if the performance gain (observable stuff we teachers measure as evidence of learning) is non-existent or slow. See folks, this is why I love Algebra! And in fact, that’s how Algebra should be taught, i.e. change those variables so students can see that the relationships expressed in an equation will yield different values as variables change. This is transference in number terms, literally.

I’m not going to pretend I understand the video completely. I don’t. What does spacing even means? I’m guessing interleaving means making connections. Interleaving vs blocking new things to be learned. whoa!

This is exactly how my PBLs are progressing. Variability. Interleaving vs blocking new things. Conditions are neither constant nor predictable (these terms are from the video, ok?).

Precisely because of how the Year 9 Digital Media Jedi Academy is set up, there is so much variability. I’ve got kids learning to write HTML code, writing ebooks, creating wikis, typography and critically analysing their process…yep, writing their applications to level up. And they’re excited about what they’re doing that invariably (haha) I have to boot them out when bell goes. Comments heard today: “I’ve done so much”, “I’ve learned so much”, “This is exciting”.  They’re collaborating, giving peer feedback and affirmations and best of all, learning how to help themselves.

Their applications to level up are done in Word, submitted to our virtual classroom (a Sharepoint site). I annotate these. Then it hit me that I had no idea of checking if they’ve really read these annotations – we’re talking individualised feedback here that took time and effort! Bianca Hewes (@biancaH80) to the rescue. More specifically, her post on feedback (a must read so go there, will you?) that mentioned the Goals, Medals, Missions framework. I told the students that they had to hunt down the medals and missions in my feedback. This had the added bonus of student feedback on my own annotations. It was clear that I was rather austere on the medals department. haha. I’ll fix that. I wish Sharepoint has notifications like edmodo.

My Year 10 PBL on the school purpose has taken twists and turns I could not have predicted. These kids are getting so engrossed on making sense of the school purpose and want to take the rest of the school with them. I’m actually rather flabbergasted though obviously proud of them taking ownership.  They designed surveys for staff and students and we had amazing discussions on the art of writing surveys and the challenges of collation…we were optimistic we’d get heaps of responses. Now they’re talking about making it a game and what do I know really of Game Design. Well, I’m learning along with them. Like my year 9s, I have to dismiss them a few times before they actually leave the room.

This post is long enough methinks. Anyway, I’m feeling good about the progress. Yeah, I still feel lost but I think I might get used to it and welcome it. That’s a good thing, right?

And just to end on the idea of abstraction: neither Bianca nor Kelli teach maths or computing; yet, see how I’ve abstracted from their work and applied to my context (steal like an artist – go on, check it out….interleaving, see?). This abstraction is Algebra IRL. really.

Lost already

My previous post, No Entry, ended with this paragraph:

Can teaching be approached the same way, i.e. seek different perspectivesenjoy the unusual (every student is an individual, after all), maybe inject a bit more art and fun, maybe dare go where I’ve previously not dared?

Little did I know that I would face up to it so soon. Here’s what I’m doing with years 9-12.

When I introduced each of these, all classes seemed surprised and lost because they got tasks they knew not how to approach (PBL vs doing projects). I very nearly gave up then and thought perhaps, being a new teacher in this school, I should ease in and start with traditional teaching approaches….approaches the students were used to. I had doubts, i.e. felt lost…just a little.

BUT since I’ve invested time and effort setting these up, I thought I’d keep going.

This was good because the Year 9s really stepped up since.  Though they could choose any digital media type, I insisted the first one should be text, being the easiest theory-wise and to ease them into the process of self-direction. Some students have opted – with a bit of encouragement – to challenge themselves and try new things like writing an ebook, creating a wiki and learning HTML.

The Year 10s have started to wonder why a school would articulate its purpose at all and why bother to understand it.

The Year 11s have started to wonder how data can indeed be transformed into information to serve one’s purpose.

The Year 12s have started to wonder how the current HSC course connect to last year’s preliminary course.

BUT it’s not all wins.

Today one of my year 12s expressed her (and one other’s) panic on discovering, through our PBL, how little they remember of the preliminary course AND now considering dropping the course.

While it is good “to know that you do not know”, I realise it is uncomfortable for one not used to it and certainly for one facing the high-stakes HSC exams. 

Not long after I spotted @MaryAnnReilly’s tweet that piqued my interest:

Getting lost is a privilege? An affordance of being in the classroom? whoa!  I did not intend for students to feel helplessly lost and now I wonder what to do.

I really liked the idea of making maps.  

I am feeling lost – did I push some students way out of their comfort zone? – and I’ll have to map my own. I’m not quite sure how it will look yet. I cannot promise students will do well in the HSC but I can promise I will do what I can to help them.

I seek other perspectives and writing this post, while unnerving, helps…especially if you’ve got perspectives to offer; perhaps this has happened to you before?

Aside, I find it interesting that my year 9s seem more assured, even happily challenged in discovering what they don’t know.  Some are intentionally getting lost and excited about way-finding and sense-making …. making their own maps. Year 10s are showing similar signs, though perhaps with less enthusiasm.

Anyway, your thoughts welcome. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

Festival of Learning Day 1

Lucky me for making it to the Festival of Learning by PLANE.  Like any good festival, there was quite a buzz and lots of people all happy to be there and be part of the festivitites. There was a lot on offer – a smorgasbord of learning and networking opportunities.

I won’t be able to do justice in capturing what it was like because so much happened. Check out#FOL12 on Twitter, this Storify by @Townesy77, PLANE festival page, or within PLANE.

Instead, I’ll list some of my takeaways because this is personalised learning, yeah? My learning.

  • Celebrate Success.  Share your story.  from Adam Elliott – you can win even if no one else expect you to do so.  And when people acknowledge your success, enjoy the ride.
  • Work needed for success. Narratives as context for learning is a motivating factor. from Dr Jason Fox. “What if work is play?”  It’s not that work is play as such but viewed as play – I interpret this as the Mary Poppins spoonful of sugar approach:

In ev’ry job that must be done there is an element of fun

you find the fun and snap! The job’s a game

  • There are many accessibility issues and opportunities for a truly inclusive classroom. Technology can help students communicate (read: share their story). from Greg Alchin. We have the technology. The question is, are we designing inclusive classrooms? Greg also shared the CAP website – lots of resources there.
  • Take care of the teachers. from Dan Haesler. Ok, I just caught the tail-end of Dan’s presentation but I thought this message is so powerful in its simplicity and relevance.  I look at it as a colleague/peer of teachers but also as a parent of kids who have teachers.
  • Be kind.  from Vivien Tuckerman. Again, just one of her many shared thoughts. However, I find that this language is important and far easier to use with students – Respect is more abstract in comparison.  
  • Do it. Share it. Lead it. from Dr S Howard. A good wrap-up keynote because, for me at least, Sarah touched on all the themes mentioned above. There is positive change in education – we must acknowledge and celebrate it. We have to work  – do make things happen. We should share our stories. This is part of taking care of teachers. Technology is there with all its affordances. Sarah’s keynote notes has her keypoints but not the dynamic story-telling on risk-taking  with a meta approach – modeling to the max. (Yes, I have an edu crush and yes I’ve told her because I was lucky enough to have a post-conference de-brief with her, Ben Jones and Donelle Batty).
There are also social takeaways – having met a few  including PLANE’s Roisin and Jenny Lewis – and spending time with my edu friends.
All up, a good first day. Looking forward to tomorrow.
And look… a wrap-up in less than 500 words. I was aiming for 300 though. oh well. 🙂
PS. if you’re an educator, register at PLANE.