Ada Lovelace Day: Laura Blankenship

It's Ada Lovelace Day today, time to celebrate a woman in science, technology, engineering or mathematics who has inspired you. I've been stewing about who to write about for the past few days. I meet a lot of female engineers, scientists, technologists and mathematicians in my line of work -- but never enough. I'm sick of making jokes about there never being a line for the women's bathroom at tech events. It's just not funny.

I think there a lot of things we can do to get more women into tech, but I believe one of the keys is getting girls into tech. That means teachers and parents need to ignite, encourage and support girls' interests in technology, engineering, science and math.

That's just one of the reasons why Laura Blankenship inspires me. She's a mom and a teacher and the author of the Geeky Mom blog. It's through the blog that I originally "met" Laura -- a long long time ago when we were both English PhD students.

And no doubt, that Laura has a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition but is now a K-12 computer science teacher is a compelling story for me (the literature PhD drop-out now working as an education technology journalist). Although Laura did take a computer science class or two in college (and, okay, married an engineer), she isn't "formally trained" in programming. But she's built websites and programs, learning what she needs to know and driving her own education forward.

And now, in turn, teaching computer science to girls.

That takes a certain sensibility in and of itself -- one we need to cultivate in educators, not just in students. How do you get girls to join a robotics club, for example? Chances are, it might not be by building "kill-bots." It also takes skill -- and in the case of teaching technology, always learning new skills. I'm always impressed that Laura is taking on new challenges: whether it's learning new programming languages, brushing up on her math chops, or assigning herself tech projects that make her think through the kinds of assignments she's giving to her students. It takes a great deal of humility, I'd say too, to admit to students that you don't necessarily know the answer, the language, the script, the shortcut, but that you'll learn alongside them as you figure things out.

All this takes a hacker mentality that I think explodes how we traditionally think about STEM education. And I think we need more of that -- much, much more of that and a lot more teachers like Laura -- to, in turn, get more girls engaged in tech.


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