By Jennifer John
Standing at the front of the classroom at Herbert Hoover Middle School, I opened my laptop and typed in the familiar URL, which auto filled after the first three characters from repeated use: appinventor.mit.edu. As the site loaded, I watched the stream of girls, between eleven and fourteen years old, come through the door, filling the room with chatter. They spread through the room, sitting down at the square cookie-cutter tables and starting up their San Francisco school district-issued Chromebooks.
As the chatter gradually faded, I rehearsed in my head the tutorial I was going teach that day: making a multiple-choice trivia app. Although the steps to build the app, which consisted of dragging colored puzzle-piece shaped blocks representing lines of Java code onto a canvas, were now instinctive to me after years of experience with programming, every lesson was a challenge to communicate clearly. I needed to make the process similarly intuitive for the students– so they could fully understand the why behind conditionals and if statements, leaving the class with an additional instrument in their toolkits that they could apply to their own apps in the coming months.
I first began volunteering with Technovation during the 2016-2017 season. After winning the competition in 2016 along with my sister, I was eager to help other girls gain the same life-changing experiences that I had. It was only after the competition that I fully realized just how valuable the skills that Technovation teaches are: coding with an audience in mind, conducting market research, public speaking, and overcoming the at times terrifying (but exhilarating!) aspects of entrepreneurship are all crucial abilities for a budding entrepreneur that are rarely taught in schools. The significance of Technovation’s impact is augmented by its focus on a demographic notoriously underrepresented in entrepreneurship and technology: girls. Particularly for its growing body of international participants, Technovation exposes girls to fields that may have seemed off-limits to their gender, with monumental results.
As a Student Ambassador at Technovation, I get to play a direct role in helping girls discover new possibilities for their futures, whether that’s through teaching at workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area or producing instructional YouTube videos to be seen by girls around the world. It’s profoundly rewarding to know that my work can impact how one person views her abilities, her strengths, and her potential.
It was because of my strong beliefs in Technovation’s mission and previous experiences as a Student Ambassador that I was delighted to be able to teach the Technovation curriculum to the class at Hoover Middle School. Unlike with workshops, as a regular teacher at a school, I have the incredible opportunity to watch first-hand as the girls develop their skills. This progress has been astounding. Since learning how to follow my steps to make a trivia app during my first lesson in October, they have gained enough confidence and practice to design and implement their own apps from scratch. It was a thrilling experience a few weeks ago when I gave the class a few coding challenges for apps, not knowing what to expect, and watched them take the initiative to successfully build them with little to no help from me. That’s how I know they’re learning by leaps and bounds.
Now in January, we’re onto the ideation process, and the girls are tasked with a challenge that would stump many adults: identifying and designing a novel technology-based solution to a problem in their communities. I can’t wait to see the innovative ideas that I know they’ll develop.
*A big thank-you to the Walmart Foundation for helping make this program possible in the San Francisco Bay Area*