Paige Burns, an incoming senior at Lafayette’s Peak to Peak Charter School, enrolled reluctantly in an advanced placement computer science class last school year.
Though she loved digital photography, she said, she didn’t think she would like the technical side. To her surprise, she found she liked learning Java and spending time coding.
“I got really into technology,” she said.
This week, she’s sharing her passion with middle-school girls by leading a weeklong camp on building an Arduino-based robot at the St. Vrain Valley School District’s Innovation Center.
Peak to Peak sixth grader Marielle Brooks, left, and Southern Hills Middle School sixth grader Madeleine Sieper work on a temperature sensor at the St. Vrain Valley School District’s Innovation Center.
“I really want to increase awareness about tech and show girls it’s not all just coding,” she said. “There’s art, there’s engineering, there’s building.”
She said the opportunity to apply for a grant to teach a workshop came from winning a regional National Center for Women and Information Technology’s Aspirations in Computing Award.
After getting the grant, she reached out to Axel Reitzig, the robotics and computer science coordinator at the Innovation Center, to ask him to serve as a program partner. Reitzig agreed to serve as a mentor and helped her plan the class.
“We want to really encourage girls in technology,” Reitzig said.
Burns chose the TechGirlz curriculum — she’s taught other classes through TechGirlz — and recruited three more high school girls to help teach it. Her goals for the 19 participants from area middle schools include learning both Arduino fundamentals and problem solving skills.
She started with teaching the basics of programming circuits using a breadboard, then connecting it to an Aurdino board. They learned to program the circuits to make a noise, to light up different LED bulbs based on the temperature and to use a photo resistor as a light switch.
Once they master the basics, they’ll build obstacle-avoiding robots to send through a maze, presenting their work to their parents on Friday.
Kate Fallon, who will be a freshman at Longmont High, said she volunteered to help teach because she enjoyed similar technology classes. She’s also on a Vex Robotics team and learned about Arduino programming at Westview Middle School.
“It’s a good skill to be able to have a problem and continue to work at it even though it’s frustrating,” she said. “I’m having a lot of fun teaching, and I’m learning, too.”
Lilia Alizadeh, who will be a 10th grader at Silver Creek High School, is volunteer teaching while her younger sister, Sophie Alizadeh, is a participant.
“It’s just really cool to help girls learn about coding and robots,” she said. “There usually is a stereotype that it’s guys who do this. I thought it was important.”
Both Lilia and Sophie said they developed an interest in programming thanks to their dad, who’s a software engineer.
“I like the problem solving,” Sophie said. “It’s really fun.”
Gianna Barela, an incoming sixth grader at Erie Middle School, said she came to the camp without much experience with technology. So far, she said, she’s found the information easy to understand and learn.
“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” she said.