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Re: teaching young women in ways that suit them

Meike Reichle wrote:
So I now ponder how to adapt my style of
talking to this new situation. Thus, I am also very interested in what
experiences you people have with teaching/motivating girls/young women
and what you think should (not) be done in order to achieve this goal.

This might sound really stupid but...

This past summer I helped a co-worker give a talk to a several groups of middle school age students (~12-13 years old) at a science symposium. The girls in the groups seemed really interested in the talk and participated a lot (raising their hands, asking / answering questions.) What we did was basically talk about different career paths in computer-science related fields, and then we gave a demo of 'computer science in action.' We gave a basic explanation of how computer networks work, then opened up ethereal on my laptop and pointed out the pieces of an AOL instant messenger message that I had sniffed. We pointed out all the different information (IP addresses, etc), finally pointing out the message body to show how you could read the content of an AOL instant messenger conversation between two other people.

As if on queue, a few girls raised their hands and asked, "Can my parents do this to read my conversations with my friends?" Yup! Another one as if on queue :) "How can I stop them?"

Then we explained how encryption works and gave a very simple 'rot13' example. We talked about how encryption is not only important for keeping conversations secret but also for business transactions and banking to take place on the web.

I think they enjoyed the talk and I hope a lightbulb went off in their heads about computer science being a possible field for them to pursue. I think the talk related to them because communication is so important to girls at that age, and because it let them see how computer science directly relates to their everyday lives. So for your talk, maybe think about what kinds of things these girls like to do, and think about what things in computer science relate to that. One thing I wish I would have done was also give them something they could use to get started; eg point out some books or TV shows or *some* kind of activity they could easily do at home or in school (if they dont have a computer at home) to start getting involved.


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