‘GIRLSDAY’ is a European initiative: a day in which technical companies, research and educational institutes open their doors to young girls aged 10-15 years in order to awaken their interest in science, technology and IT, and consider them as potential fields of work.
The second edition of the Marktplaats Girlsday took place on April 23rd, 2015 in our office. We hosted a wonderful group of 14 elementary school girls, mostly aged between 9 and 10 years old.
The introduction was given by Alessandro Coppo – the General Manager of the Ebay Classifieds Group, with fun facts about Marktplaats and insights on how technology empowers people in our daily life: Alessandro made it very interactive and fun for the young audience.
The young students showed an incredible interest and curiosity when faced with the big numbers: for example, how many advertisements are currently live on Marktplaats?How many users visit the website? How many new advertisements per second are published on Marktplaats?
If one tried to print all the pages viewed on Marktplaats on a second, it would be as printing an encyclopedia!
If you would keep printing, the pile of paper would become taller than the Amsterdam Rembrandt tower after just one hour.
When the volunteers met before the Girls Day we asked what got us first interested in technology. A common theme was that we liked the instant feedback of giving a command and seeing the result.
We felt strongly that the take away for the girls should be that you do not have to just be a consumer of technology but also help build what is to come next.
We had pre-installed the following on our macbooks
brew install cowsay
gem install lolcat
and at the start of the workshop introduced them to the concept that programmers tell a computer exactly what to do when they receive a certain command.
On the terminal they played with various commands to show what happened when they changed input, the resulting output and then how to pass the output from one program to another as input.
echo “girls day”
cowsay girls day
cowsay girls day | lolcat
Once they got comfortable with changing commands, hitting return and getting a result we moved onto explaining how animation worked. Using a physical flipbook of images with small changes, we showed that this is all the computer is doing whenever they are watching an animated film like Frozen.
Our project is available https://github.com/svandeven/girlsday
which contains an example programme ./animation.py and some predefined ascii images of various variations
By deciding what order to show the images in – they could build an animation. They then could chose to move the image up, down or change colour by adding the commands to the python script.
Next, the girls stated editing the images so that they could add their own ideas to the animation.
When we were done with the animation – the girls went online and played with http://lightbot.com/hocflash.html which also proved to be a huge hit.
The tour of the office was fun and it gave the girls a chance to think about the spaces which facilitate collaboration: they saw how the designers and testers work together and how the office space is set up to support and encourage a sharing of ideas in a comfortable work environment. The feedback was extremely positive from the girls, from the parents and the teacher. The organizers were are also very pleased with the interest the participants showed and the energy they have.
The result? The young girls were amazingly interested and grasped the concepts of simple coding and running a program very quickly.
We think the key to the success was having so many helpers available for them, and one computer for every 2 girls, so they could really try out things and type code, which they loved to do. There was a lot of energy in the room and we had several different activities planned as we weren’t sure how long they would want to continue doing each activity. This was very useful and necessary as it enabled is to adapt – if the girls got a bit bored or started flagging we could switch to the next cool thing.
What about next year?
We were really happy with how the day went. What could we maybe do to make it even better? One comment was that if we could turn the animation into making a game it would be a more finished program for the girls to be proud of.
Perhaps we could also have let them add some secret code to our website so they could show at home their names ‘hidden’ in the html to their friends and family. Its good that we have a year to think how we can make it even better….