Twenty-six girls from Lake Trail Middle School took part in the nationwide event on Wednesday, Dec. 6. Photo by Scott Strasser.

Lake Trail Middle School takes part in national all-girl hackathon

Twenty-six girls from Lake Trail Middle School joined nearly 3,000 others across Canada in a national all-girl hackathon on Dec. 13.

The event was put on by Hackergal — a non-profit organization that aims to bridge the gender gap in computer science.

“We’re introducing middle school girls to coding in a fun, cool way so that they have the knowledge and experience to select the right curriculum in high school if they choose,” said Hackergal founder Ray Sharma.

The non-profit started in Toronto in 2015 and aims to inspire middle school-aged girls to become interested in coding and programming.

Last year, the hackathon — also known as a code-fest — saw 300 students from grades 6–9 taking part from five schools.

The event has picked up steam since then. More than 2,900 girls from over 90 schools across Canada are expected to participate this year, making it the largest all-girl coding event in Canadian history.

Hackergal is born from the fact that women are still underrepresented in the computer science and technology sector. According to Statistics Canada, only a quarter of mathematics, computer and information sciences students at Canadian universities in 2015-16 were women.

“Right now it’s important to get girls using computer programming because there is a shortage of girls in the tech industry,” said Kara Dawson, the Information Technology teacher for Comox Valley School District 71.

“There are going to be lots of jobs for coding in the future and it’s important that girls are a part of that.”

Throughout the day-long hackathon, the Lake Trail girls worked in pairs or small teams to create stories or mini-games using the Python coding language. The theme of the event was “Christmas Cheer.”

Prior to the Dec. 13 event, the Lake Trail girls became acquainted with Python through an introductory coding course.

Dawson said learning to code gives students the opportunity to develop their problem-solving skills and higher-order thinking skills. Though the Dec. 13 event was strictly for girls, all Lake Trail students are introduced to coding.

“When they’re developing the program, they’re going to have to think ahead,” she said. “They’re going to do a ton of problem-solving when things don’t go right or working to get something to do what they want through code.

“They have to think very carefully because computers don’t ‘know’ anything,” she continued. “When you’re coding, you have to put every single step in and if you don’t, it’s not going to work.”

While Lake Trail Middle School is the only SD71 school participating in Hackergal this year, Dawson hopes more will take part next year.

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