Girls Learning Code – Mentoring Experience

Working as a mentor during spring break’s Girls Learning Code camp was an overall truly amazing experience. I was initially intimidated by the idea of working with children, given how I don’t have much experience with how to interact with them. I was also a bit lost about what I was expected to do as a mentor at first,  and a little unsure if I should study a bit in case I was requested to teach them something. As I read about the camp, I became more and more interested in the idea; it’s amazing to know there’s a safe, healthy experience entirely dedicated to celebrate young girls and their interest in technology. This kind of initiative might be fairly common in countries like Canada, but, as a Brazilian student, this was truly fascinating and new for me.

Aside from training on Sunday, I was scheduled to work as a mentor on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 17 and 18), from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM on both days. All the girls were separated on smaller teams, and each team had two mentors looking after them (I was assigned to Team Scratch; all teams were named after programming platforms or languages, which was a nice touch). Since there were a lot of new mentors on Tuesday – myself included -, the camp organizers decided to run a couple of group dynamics so that the girls could learn our names and we could learn theirs. We also used a button maker to craft buttons with our names on it, and the girls also were wearing buttons displaying their names, which helped communication a lot. At this point, I had already been informed that, as a mentor, I only needed to assist the girls during their learning sessions (Kathryn Barrett was very sweet and helpful and made sure that we all knew how to behave and what to do).

The camp’s main objective was to teach girls how to work with HTML and CSS by prompting them to create a website about a cause they cared about (for example, the team I was mentoring chose endangered animals). At each day, they learned different things from different people to help them build their website from scratch and present it on Friday, the last day. These working sessions were around 2 hours long, and there was a lot of free time for the girls to play and interact with each other (one hour before the morning tutorials and one hour after the afternoon tutorials), aside from lunch break at 12 PM. The girls also had access to snacks inside the learning zone, and were instructed to ask a mentor whenever they wanted to go to the bathroom or leave the room in general.

During Tuesday morning, the girls were taught how to use Love Bomb Builder to create a simple, small customized page (they were oriented to write a small invitation for people to come and see their websites on Friday). The experience gave some basic HTML notions, as well as CSS, and the girls were encouraged to change the code as much as they wanted. After lunch break, the girls returned to the room for a learning session with Mozilla Thimble, where they were expected to craft their websites for real. As a mentor, I helped the girls on my team with small HTML mistakes (such as accidentally erasing part of the code when trying to change an image URL, closing tags, changing sizes and colors). The lady presenting the tutorials to the girls was also circling around and helping them. When class time was over, there was a very nice yoga session for the girls to stretch and play together after sitting in front of computers for a long while. After that, they were allowed to play until their parents arrived to pick them up.

Wednesday arrived, and the girls were still learning new things to help them build their website – from 10 AM to 12 PM, they used Canva to design posters to promote their website concept. Many girls were excited about having a chance to work with visuals – so far, they had only worked with HTML and website structuring (CSS was set to be explored on Thursday only). The girls also learned about surveys, and each team conducted their surveys to aid the marketing of their website. Each girl was prompted to come up with a single question related to their website theme, and they were given ten minutes to circle around the room and collect answers from colleagues and mentors alike (I remember being asked if free Wi-Fi was important to me and if I thought that sharks were scary). After analyzing the answers they had received, they were encouraged to use this data on their posters.

For the afternoon, the girls were taken to a field trip to Nuvango, where they were given a tour and learned several things, from their unique process of designing artistic t-shirts to how the products are photographed to be displayed on the website.  Since they were a large group, the girls were separated in three groups and made a cycle of groups to watch three different presentations, one focusing on the story of Nuvango, other on product’s marketing and the last one – a real tour to see the printers and sewing machines. The girls were very interested on the products and were eager to come up with suggestions for new customized products, such as headbands, blankets and slippers.

I’m extremely glad that I had the chance to be a part of this amazing experience. For one, I was surprised with the care and support provided to the girls, and how many toys and activities were at their disposition at all times. Being a mentor at Girls Learning Code was something completely new to me since I never worked on a position were I’m expected to look after others and never judged myself capable to. At first, it was almost funny to have these young girls come to me and ask if they could use the bathroom or drink water, until I realized they saw me as one of the adults and I was, in fact, one of them in that occasion. It was immensely uplifting to see these girls of different ages playing together and learning and being passionate about technology. There wasn’t a single stressful moment in the days I was present (and this is also thanks to the girls being incredibly mature and sensible) and I felt a bit like a helper and a student myself – at times, it was hard to realize I was there as a mentor and not as a student. The camp also had nice little touches that made everything all the more enjoyable – for example, the girls can nominate mentors and other girls for special award categories, and they can also make “warm fuzzies” (little decorated paper bags that were displayed on a wall) for other girls.

I think there were many valuable things to be learned during this camp, and, hopefully, I managed to absorb most of them. First of all, I do feel like I learned a lot more about young girls and how smart and passionate they can be about what they love. It’s weird to say that since I once was a little girl as well, but I feel like I never truly understood kids, yet now I understand them a bit more. Another thing to be learned is the value of such a healthy, positive environment for kids, one that allows them to express themselves, learn and play and do all the things that kids should do. I wish there were more opportunities like these for girls all over the world. I was also greatly surprised at how many young girls from different cultural backgrounds are deeply interested in coding and creating things with technology, which, for me, is a very positive effect of our modern way of life, and will certainly contribute for a wider range of capable professionals in the future. Finally, I might be repeating myself but I’m truly glad to have participated in this and I feel like I learned a lot more from these brilliant girls than what I can actually put into words.