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From Liberal Arts to Engineering: A woman’s journey through code

September 28, 2016 – 12:17 pm | 69 views

This week’s blog post comes from Nadia Sheikh, a software engineering student at Concordia University and a teacher with Kids Code Jeunesse, an organization that teaches and promotes coding for kids. LEARN and Kids Code Jeunesse …

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From Liberal Arts to Engineering: A woman’s journey through code

September 28, 2016 – 12:17 pm | 69 views

photo by Robert Costain

This week’s blog post comes from Nadia Sheikh, a software engineering student at Concordia University and a teacher with Kids Code Jeunesse, an organization that teaches and promotes coding for kids. LEARN and Kids Code Jeunesse will be offering a new session of Saturday coding classes beginning October 15.

I came to the field of software engineering later in life than most of fellow students. Prior to enrolling in a software engineering program at Concordia, I had studied law, philosophy and neuroscience. Despite the plethora of men in my family, including my father, who are engineers, the field was one I had never considered an option for myself. It seemed an impossibility. After all, engineers were Math people and I was a middling Math student at best. I was a reader and the highest grades I received were in History and English, so clearly I was an Arts person. At the ripe age of eight, I decided that my future lay in the humanities. It took a continental move, six petrifying months with rats in a lab, and an offhand suggestion for me to even consider that I could be a software engineer.

My experience, it appears, is not an uncommon one. In 2010, a report published by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada noted that although the number of women outnumber the number of males enrolled in an undergraduate degree by 40%, women make up only 37% of students enrolled in a natural science and engineering degree. Under representation is even more prevalent when only engineering and computer science are considered, with females making up only 16.9% of students enrolled in engineering or computer science bachelors in Canada for the 2008 – 2009 academic year. The literature review conducted by NSERC identifies a range of reasons many of which seem to characterize my experience including: stereotypes of femininity and masculinity, girls holding themselves to higher standards than boys, girls lacking confidence in their mathematical ability when compared to boys and a lack of female role models in natural science and technology fields.

Although I entered my studies at Concordia with trepidation and have been challenged academically, I have found many of my prior perceptions, those that kept me out of the field of software engineering and quaking with fear amongst my lab rats, to be unfounded. Software engineering, I have found is not just for mathematicians but for creators and dreamers, and those like me, with a penchant for abstraction. Although mathematical proficiency is required, this proficiency is not simply endowed but can be acquired with deliberate practice, in my case motivated by a desire to create.  I am not as I feared, the sole woman, struggling, at the bottom of my class. Although a minority, I am surrounded by women classmates and professors, all of whom vary academically, in personality, and in how they choose to express their femininity.logokcj_1ligne_rgbKey to these realizations has been exposure to coding and the world of code. It is this exposure that I seek to give kids as I teach them to code through the classes given by Kids Code Jeunesse and LEARN. In creating projects using Scratch or CSS and HTML or Python, my students are given an opportunity to gain confidence as producers of media, and not merely consumers of it. They engage in computational thinking divorced from mathematics, utilizing skills such as abstraction, decomposition and pattern recognition to transform the seed of an idea in their very human minds into one that can be realized by a computer. They are given a safe environment to fail and then reiterate as snippets of code fail to perform as expected. They may be challenged, in looking at their instructors and their fellow students to see who is a software engineer or computer scientist and who can code.

The exposure gleaned in my classes is not intended to convert but to empower kids to make informed choices as they look to their futures. It is an attempt to reveal to them a potential, one that they may or may not choose to nurture, and to dispel false barriers. No child at the naïve age of eight should be placing themselves in the silo of being an Arts person or a Math person.

If you want to read more about how to nurture girls’ interest in science, check out these posts:

Rapping Across the Curriculum

September 8, 2016 – 2:20 pm | One Comment | 682 views

The following is a guest post by Dan Parker. 
Dan Parker holds an M.A. in Education and a B. Ed. in High School History and French Second Language. He taught in Quebec for three years and …

2016 Summertime Reads from the LEARN Team

June 15, 2016 – 12:09 pm | 2 Comments | 791 views

In the summer when the days are hot,
I like to find a shady spot,
And hardly move a single bit
And sit, and sit, and sit, and sit.
– Anonymous
As exam centres close, white boards scrubbed, classroom floors …

K is for Kindergarten: Why parents matter in the transition to school

June 8, 2016 – 10:52 am | One Comment | 622 views

I still remember the day I went to our local school to inquire about registering my daughter for kindergarten. It was going to be a big step for her, and I vaguely felt it would …

One Year Later: Passing thoughts of a newbie-flash-in-the-pan principal

June 2, 2016 – 9:53 pm | 2 Comments | 642 views

Three Little Lessons Learned – One Year Later
Special series by Neil MacIntosh – You can read his previous posts here, here and here.
After much procrastination, after fixing other things in the house that did not really …

Open Learning Limitations

May 19, 2016 – 12:54 pm | 4 Comments | 922 views

On April 1, 2016 I was skimming my twitter feed and I came across a post shared by Will Richardson about Alexandra Elbakyan. According to the Washington Post, “The 27-year-old graduate student from Kazakhstan is …

Types de textes, genres de textes, séquences textuelles, discours, mode… J’en perds mon latin !

May 11, 2016 – 11:40 am | Comments Off on Types de textes, genres de textes, séquences textuelles, discours, mode… J’en perds mon latin !1,255 views

J’enseigne le FLS au niveau secondaire et je voulais savoir à quel niveau je devais enseigner le texte explicatif. Or, après avoir regardé à la loupe le Programme de formation de l’école québécoise (PFÉQ) et …

The Genius of Genius Hour

May 3, 2016 – 12:43 pm | One Comment | 632 views

My daughter recently had the opportunity to participate in a Genius Hour project at her school and then a board-wide sharing session, where principals and vice-principals met students from around the OCDSB to hear about …

She Said, He Said: On Makerspaces

April 28, 2016 – 12:20 pm | 2 Comments | 874 views

Last year, LEARN started exploring the idea of Makerspaces as a way to increase students’ engagement in school. The idea itself is not new. Originally incubated by hackers and computer tinkerers, Makerspaces have taken hold …

Interagir, c’est beaucoup plus que parler!

April 20, 2016 – 10:31 am | Comments Off on Interagir, c’est beaucoup plus que parler!455 views

Collaboration spéciale de Jean Provençal, conseiller pédagogique à la commission scolaire Eastern Townships. Jean a enseigné le français, langue seconde au secondaire pendant plus de 20 ans et a aussi contribué à la rédaction du programme de français langue …

K is for Kindergarten: Easing into school

April 14, 2016 – 11:34 am | Comments Off on K is for Kindergarten: Easing into school523 views

This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the wonderful world of kindergarten.
It’s the time of year when parents of pre-school aged children are thinking of kindergarten, and the Great Transition from …