Fall 2014 HowGirlsCode Class from Fulton Elementary School

Isn't it funny how something you start can grow beyond your first imagining? That's how it's been with the home-based computer club Lisa Schlossnagle started in 2012. It began as just a fun thing to do with her daughters, but a conversation with her neighbor, Katie Egan, set it on a new course.

Katie and Lisa, whose daughters all went to Fulton Elementary together, had recently met and were getting to know each other better over coffee. Their backgrounds were similar; both were raised in Maryland and earned education degrees from Maryland universities. Lisa’s experience is in elementary education. Katie's background is in secondary education and instructional technology, specifically online learning.  Both are passionate about technology, education, and opportunities for girls.

It was during this coffee date that they serendipitously connected Katie's long-held dream of starting a computer science-based after school program for girls with Lisa’s home-based club. Katie’s kids joined the club and the conversations continued.

In the fall of 2013, Katie and Lisa gathered a Fulton Elementary School teacher, a computer science professor, and some business leaders from the technology sector to deepen the conversation. The brainstorms coalesced into something to act on.

The first after-school program launched in February 2014 with 22 students in grades 3-5. The appetite for this kind of program was so great; the response was surprising. The guest speaker series, which began each club meeting, provided the girls with tremendous information about the varied careers in which computer science plays a role. Teacher Clair Wise led the girls through a series of computer science lessons and Scratch programming activities.

As noted in a Howard County Times article, the program's reach extended to high school students, as well. Linda Pchelka, a computer science teacher at Reservoir High School, brought computer science and National Honors Society students to assist the girls with their programming projects. In addition, Ms. Pchelka demonstrated the LEGO Mindstorms robots her students use in their computer science classes. For one of the sessions, they traveled to Reservoir High School's computer lab, where Ms. Pchelka taught the girls to program the robots. Ms. Wise's excellent teaching became evident as the girls applied their previous programming knowledge to the new-to-them Mindstorms application.

Local businesses gave their support, as well. OmniTI, an Internet consulting firm located in Maple Lawn, sent two of its team members to serve as guest speakers and invited the students back for a tour and follow-up discussion.

In the fall of 2014, the HowGirlsCode program expanded to three distinct classes: two at Fulton Elementary  and one at Clemens Crossing Elementary School. As interest in the program continues to grow,  there are plans to offer more sections at these schools in the spring with potential for two additional schools to join the HowGirlsCode program. In two years, the number of Howard County girls learning about computer science and coding grew from 18 girls to 45 across two schools. Imagine where HowGirlsCode will be in two more years.