Lifestyle

Girls fly high in drone school

  • Flight school: Chelsea Minors, left, Tamara Dean, Gabriella Charles and Siniah Lambe are studying drones and coding at ConnecTech (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Gabriella Charles takes flight with drone coding at ConnecTech (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Tamara Dean takes flight with drone coding at ConnecTech (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Like a lot of 12-year-olds, Chelsea Minors doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life yet.

But a camp that allowed her to code and fly drones has her considering technology.

And that’s music to Connec- Tech founder Coral Wells’s ears.

She started the educational charity in 2016 with a goal of getting more girls into the industry.

As head of tech company W&W Solutions, she often finds herself staring down a roomful of men in committee meetings and boardrooms.

“Usually only 10 per cent of the room is female,” she said.

No surprise then, that it’s been tricky finding girls who are interested in coding.

“The majority of the students who show up for our camps and after-school programmes are boys,” she said. “It’s probably 80 per cent boys, 20 per cent girls.”

ConnecTech offers programmes for children between the ages of 6 and 15.

Sometimes there’s a single female in the group.

“They feel nervous to be the only one and think about leaving,” Ms Wells said. “It’s hard to keep them engaged unless they are really into it.”

To tackle the problem, ConnecTech started offering all-girls camps last year, focusing on blogging in February and drone coding in October.

Fourteen girls from public middle schools took part.

Chelsea, a student at Clearwater Middle School, participated in October along with Tamara Dean, 12.

“I like fiddling around with computers at school,” Tamara said. “Sometimes I make and design games with an app called Scratch.”

The Whitney Institute Middle School student signed up after hearing a teacher talk about the camp in assembly.

Siniah Lambe, 13, also participated in the drone camp.

“I think the teachers encourage the girls a lot in technology,” the Sandys Secondary Middle School student said. “Us girls are given more opportunities to do different coding programmes. I don’t know why, but probably because the boys don’t really code in our class, they just play around.”

Ms Wells thinks that what the girls are seeing might be the result of ConnecTech’s efforts to get more of them involved.

“It is encouraging to see the increase in interest in technology among girls but the gender gap is still a significant issue,” she said.

“ConnecTech will continue to offer opportunities to increase awareness for our girls to excel in this industry.”

There is a noticeable difference in the way boys and girls approach the activities, both of which are needed in real life, Ms Wells added.

“The boys tend to go full-bore ahead. If they are designing their game, they design it to level one and then want to play it. They don’t go any further.

“We find that with our girls, before they jump into something, whether they are doing a game or animation, they will jot down and plan it out first and have something different happening on four different levels. They are a little bit more strategic.”

Although the drones were fun to play with, in reality they were teaching the girls about coding.

“They use a Scratch plug-in from MIT,” she said. “It is a little bit more difficult than your basic Scratch programming, but it gives them another form of having to learn how to code.”

The coding helped the girls manoeuvre their drones, change light colours and make them do flips and other tricks.

At the end of the weeklong programme, the girls had to fly their drones through a maze of hula hoops set up around the. ConnecTech office.

“It was a little frustrating but also fun,” Tamara said. “The hula hoops were placed up and down and were different sizes. You had to try to get the drone into the perfect position.”

The drones were just as entertaining for ConnecTech coding instructor Zär’a Cardell.

“I had seen them in videos but never actually driven one before,” he said.

“With some of the things I would want to show students, we would end up doing a bit of live troubleshooting because it wouldn’t end up the way I wanted it to the first time.”

The group used MakeBlock Airblock Modular Hexacopter Drones.

Stacked with six rotors, they can be transformed into a hovercraft or similar system.

The drones also have an ear-splitting buzz, and can land in unexpected places in inexperienced hands.

Luckily they are made of soft material and do not pose much danger.

“It was an interesting experience,” Mr Cardell said. “I probably learnt as much as they did about the drones and how they worked.”

Added Tamara: “A drone goes up in the air, a hovercraft stays on the ground but is easy to manipulate.

“If you have something going upwards it might go up in the air, but by itself it wouldn’t really go up.

“I like the drone. On the ground, I couldn’t really control the hovercraft on the ground as easy as I could the drone in the air.”

Ms Wells is planning another all-girls coding camp this year but is also considering one that’s just for boys.

“We do hear from the schools that they are doing a whole bunch for the girls, but we think we can do more for boys,” she said.

“I think that is really important. I think it should be a level playing field. It shouldn’t just be all girls or all boys. I think that is important.”

The all-girls coding programmes at ConnecTech were sponsored by Hamilton Insurance Group. For more information see connectech.bm