On a Saturday morning, three young girls in the Girls Who Code club made shapes and moved pictures of animals on computer screens inside of the Carnival Center for Excellence east of Little Havana.
Mabel Colon, a social worker and coordinator of academic programs for the mentoring nonprofit, Big Brothers Big Sisters Miami, brought laptops to the room where the girls would work. Colon was assisted by a woman named Nareen, who became a volunteer in September when she brought her daughter, Carlie, to earn community service hours.
The girls in the room to the left of the front desk were logging into Codesters.com, a website for students to took step-by-step coding lessons at their own pace. Two of the girls had no prior experience with coding. One had been learning by playing Roblox, a game creation platform that uses Lua, a simple scripting language.
That morning marked their seventh consecutive Saturday at Carnival Center participating in Girls Who Code, a nonprofit initiative whose goal is to increase the number of women in computer science.
In 2015, women comprised of only 18 percent of students who earned computer science degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For women of color, the percentage is even lower.
“I’m learning a language to make a game on the computer,” said Kisara Williams, 9, who was beginning Lesson Four.
On the right side of the laptop screen was a sprite, an animated computer graphic often shaped like a recognizable object—in this case, a pig. Williams had to type, “Wilber,” where the words “variable name” were on a line of code.
When she followed the instructions at the top of the page, she made the name “Wilber” appear under the pig. She typed the names Sam and Smokey in parentheses between quotation marks on a line of code to name a toucan and a black panther.
Colon, who follows a curriculum from Girls Who Code, assigned a final collaborative project in which the girls will create a digital storybook for children in elementary school. She made the girls come up with their own individual stories with three elements: a bunny, swimming and sleeping.
Williams came up with a story about a bunny and his lady bunny friend who felt angry at him because he wouldn’t sleep.
“He likes to swim, but he can’t sleep and his friend helps him fall asleep,” she said. “They get to like each other and then they get married.”
Shavonnah Jackson, 15, created houses by shifting the positions of triangles and squares. She was learning to debug the program by fixing a function which created a gold circle.
Her story, she said, has no bunny.
“It’s about a girl and her friend that go out swimming but then they get tired so they take a nap,” she said.
Isamar Chavarria, 11, the one who likes playing Roblox, is the most advanced member of the club. She also enjoys playing Piano Tiles 2, a musical game that challenges players’ hand-eye coordination; and Colorbox, a color theory game in which players match different colored squares to make them white.
Her story has a longer plot than the younger girls’.
“The bunny used to live in an adoption home and then he got adopted by Sam,” she said. “Sam is a swimmer, and Sam trained the bunny to be the best swimmer ever and compete in the Olympics.”