From May – July 2017, Stichting NewTechKids’ taught a computer science program to an all-girls group at de Blauwe Lijn, a primary school in Amsterdam Southeast. The school is situated in one of Amsterdam’s poorest neighbourhoods. Els Ranzijn, the school’s principal, lobbied for the program and volunteered to help teach it over 10 weeks.

Here are her thoughts about the experience.

Tell us about your school.

Els: Our school is an average-sized elementary school, with 235 students and 12 groups. We have 24 nationalities at school. Our school is located in Kortvoort, one of the poorest districts of Amsterdam Zuidoost.

Our school team consists of 23 members who work to create a healthy and fun environment, together with the parents and children. We work in smaller groups, so that every child is seen and gets the attention he/she deserves. We stimulate the students to develop their talents and to take responsibility for their own learning process. Learning, education, knowledge and skills, feedback and dialogue: these are important themes for us.

Why did you lobby to bring our Computer Science program to your school? What were you hoping to achieve?

Els: It’s very important that our students are exposed to computer science and programming. These subjects are not yet included in the curriculum of Dutch primary schools, I hope this happens soon. By exposing our students to computer science and programming, they understand more about technology and how technology automates everything, including robots. They also think more creatively if they can program.

Why did you want to create an all-girls Computer Science Club at your school?

Els: One of your requirements was to have at least 50% girls in the Club. I thought that if there were only girls in the club, the girls would probably feel more free than if there were also boys in the group. It’s important that girls believe in themselves and their abilities. They must be confident that they can learn about computer science and programming too.

How did the program benefit your students?

Els: First off, the girls felt very special that they were chosen to participate in this program. I was so happy to see that the girls dared to build and program. They were eager to learn and did not give up when they encountered challenges. It was also great that Marja-Ilona [our teacher] taught in English. Several girls speak English at home and those who don’t got to practise their English.

You volunteered to serve as Assistant Teacher during our program. Why did you choose to do this?

Els: This Club was very important for the development of the girls. I, myself, did not know so much about computer science and programming. It was important for me to learn something new and experience what teaching and learning these subjects is like. Since I lobbied to have the Club at our school, I also wanted to make sure that it ran smoothly. Also, I need to set a good example for our teachers and show that it is important to learn new subjects and new ways of teaching.

What did you learn from teaching computer science and 21st century skills during our 9-week program?

Els: I was amazed at what the students were already capable of. Your Club was for older students [ages 10-12] but I am sure that students ages eight and nine would be interested as well. I have learned to enjoy the involvement of the students and the process of working hard and struggling to complete a classroom challenge.

Q: What were some of your observations about how students learned during the program? 

Els: I was glad I helped teach the group. If the students could not follow English, I could provide a Dutch translation. The girls were definitely able to build and to program with LEGO Mindstorms and design using the Ozobots. Their ability to think creatively improved. Even when it was 35 degrees in the classroom during the heatwave, the girls concentrated and tried to get their robots to work. They programmed doors and bumper cars.

Would you like to continue to offer computer science programs at your school? Does your school have funding to do so?

Els: I certainly want to. Two of my colleagues will attend your teacher training program in the Fall and I am trying to find a subsidy to purchase the teaching tools you used for the Club’s classes [LEGO Mindstorms and Ozobots]. I have money for teaching activities but not enough to buy all the teaching tools.

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