The programmer adventure for Girl Scouts has only just begun!

October 19, 2018

In October of 2017, Girl Scouts from the Florida Panhandle converged on Gulf Coast State College in Panama City for a day-long journey into cyberspace. Girls of all ages took their mission to make the world a better place into the realm of computer science and cybersecurity.

Kat Murphy, a Girl Scouting alum and leader of the school’s cybersecurity club – Corps Tigris –  led the partnership effort.  The day’s activities helped each girl complete GSA’s requirements for their “Think Like a Programmer” journey badge.

“We wanted to develop a curriculum that was fun, engaging, inexpensive, and easy to copy,” said Corps Tigris founder Guy Garrett. “It is amazing what you can learn about programming by simply trying to make a peanut butter sandwich.”

Where did the journey begin?

Murphy approached Garrett, then an associate professor and program manager for the college’s cybersecurity degree programs, with the idea. Within a day, they created a series of activities and demonstrations to be guided by the GSA’s badge requirements. The challenge was how to make such a complex subject interesting and entertaining.

“It has to be fun,” Garrett said “We started with girls from kindergarten through fifth grade and what we did had to be adapted to each age group. Kat did a great job with making sure that happened.”

This creative team of innovators produced a day of interactive and entertaining events. Girls learned how to debug and patch code through a match card game. They watched a live hacking demonstration and discovered the danger of downloading “free” software and they were challenged to create a poster to teach their community about the importance of cyber safety – something the Girl Scouts’ call a take action project.

Perhaps the most unusual sight was watching professor Garrett portray a programmable robot who used the girls’ instructions to make, or in most cases mess up, a simple peanut butter sandwich.

The girls guided the robot with “commands” that he took quite literally. Many laughed as the “robot” dropped a plate onto the floor when told “drop plate.” The visual quickly taught the girls to call out specific grid coordinates.

“You will learn to pay attention to details is the first thing I teach anyone who wants to pursue computer science, cybersecurity, or IT,” Garrett said. “My robot will do what he’s told, but if you leave out the details, then things go sideways. It requires detail, but it is not difficult if you think about it.”

Girls empowered and inspired…

The Tiger team from Gulf Coast State College certainly empowered and inspired the young girls. They took complicated material and made it creative and fun. They encouraged the girls to explore STEM careers in a Disney-esque way! Inspiration happened naturally as a group of the college’s female cybersecurity students were there to mentor and provide living examples of what they might want to be when they grow up.

Mission accomplished, but don’t stop there…

There’s more ground to cover! All the games are clearly outlined in Garrett’s submission that won an award for Innovation in Cybersecurity Education in Local Partnerships. This innovation is 100% transferable to other institutions. To access it and more like it, go to the National CyberWatch Center’s member portal HERE. Academic memberships are FREE, and other memberships are available HERE.