by Marie Cavitte
Every year, around the months of September and October, there is a fantastic project called WeGoSTEM that rolls into action. With the support of Dwengo and SheGoesICT, WeGoSTEM involves sending hundreds of volunteers to primary schools all around Belgium to show 5th and 6th grade students how exciting the science and technology fields can be. They are challenged to build a robot and then program it to draw independently.
As a glaciologist and climate scientist, I know how important programming has become in our field. Who has gone through their PhD without having to code at least once? Often, we have to become muti-IT-lingual, jumping from one model written in Python to the next written in Matlab… Being comfortable in programming has become the norm.
So this is why, this year again, I spent a day teaching programming to two classrooms of 6th graders, hoping to inspire a few more scientists in the making.
It was fantastic to see how, with no prior training, the students engaged with the challenge we had given them, and that in the hour-and-forty minutes we had with them, they had successfully gotten their robot built and drawing interesting (and very modern) art!
Even more wonderful was to watch these young minds realize that robotics and programming are accessible to them. I had several kids excitedly tell me “This is so much easier than I thought!” or “I want to continue doing this in the future… I think I’ll be an IT engineer!” Hearing that, from boys and girls alike, was wonderful. WeGoSTEM pays attention to the gender balance of their volunteers (we were two women out of three volunteers) to set a role model for the young girls in the classrooms. In just one day, I had already spotted a few girls being pushed aside by their teammate because “building a robot is for boys!” and I was glad to use the opportunity to point out that my colleague and I were girls who programmed. Showing young kids that STEM is easy, fun, and for everyone is exactly what we were there for.
This year, we reached out to 7500 students, with the help of 520 volunteers. If reading this got you intrigued, you can find out more at www.wegostem.be.
Photo credits: Marie Cavitte and Samira Aharchi