BOONSBORO, Md. (AP) — The Engineering Club of Boonsboro Elementary School is open to all students, but it's generally limited to the first 20 students who sign up — most of whom are boys.
When a recent session was focused on female students, called "Inspiring Girls in Engineering," more than 60 of the school's 274 students signed up for it.
With the support of Principal Matthew Wagner, and the help of additional teachers and administrators, all the girls were allowed to attend.
"He (Wagner) realizes the importance of giving girls the opportunity, since most of them wouldn't always get hands-on and build things and use computer programs," said second-grade magnet teacher Jordyn Himes, who operates the club with fifth-grade magnet teacher Emily Reeves.
The club runs once a week for six weeks, with students divided into three groups, including robotics, computer coding, and designing and building models with Legos and K'Nex, Himes said.
"Our purpose was to serve those who don't have access to technology as we do in our magnet programs," she said.
Every session begins with a volunteer speaker, who is a female working in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, field, where women are in the minority.
A recent session featured an online interactive interview with two employees from Hopscotch, a drag-and-drop programming app founded by two women for children to write their own programs, according to www.commonsensemedia.org, a computer-coding program used by the Engineering Club.
The girls are working on projects focused on the school's theme of Global Citizenship, charged with identifying a problem, and brainstorming and implementing solutions. Two project examples are solving water scarcity and slowing down speeding drivers in a local community.
Fourth-grader Sydney Byrd of Keedysville built an EB3 Lego robot to help solve water-scarcity issues. Sydney said that she would like to be a teacher, engineer, librarian or a writer when she grows up.
Nora Murthy, a second-grader from Hagerstown, said "coding is like my second language."
Nora said that she enjoys the Engineering Club because she gets to spend time with her friends "staying after school for a fun reason."
Himes said parents have been as excited about the opportunity as students. Some have asked about where they can purchase Lego robots, and students have been using Hopscotch outside of the club now that their interest in coding has been piqued.
Teachers involved with the club also noticed that students who are not strong academically are strong in areas using technology as a tool, Himes said.
Himes said she hopes more girls will sign up for the next session of the club when it's offered to both boys and girls.
"I have learned you don't have to be a boy to code. Girls, let's take a chance," Nora said.
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com
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