The Central Region not only has fertile fields for growing vegetables, but now has a technical space to sprout computer-savvy minds, thanks to a grant led by the region’s ICT Deputy Sector Navigator, Dennis Mohle.

“Computer Science is now being pushed to the eighth grade thanks to a Coder Girlz effort spearheaded by the grant-writing team at Fresno Unified,” said Mohle.

“The California Department of Education has publically stated – While California’s Career Technical Education (CTE) Model Curriculum Standards have included computer science standards for many years, California’s Instructional Quality Commission is currently developing and recommending new computer science content standards for kindergarten and grades 1 to 12.”

CoderGirlz is a new Fresno Unified School District coding club for girls so schools can better support middle school girls who are curious about coding or already love to code. The club will help girls build self-confidence and interest in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It will also prepare students for Computer Science courses offered at schools.

When asked about developing curriculum for fledgling coders, Mohle said, “Most of that heavy lifting has been done by organizations such as Code.org. We can be a bit more creative and weave in cybersecurity topics such as physical security (hacker speak for lock picking) and challenge them with “real” languages. I am developing modules in C for the students. Not C++, but C. Wouldn’t that be great to hear from an eighth grader from Fresno – ‘Hey, I’m a C programmer!’?”

Developing ICT pathways for underserved high school students in the Fresno area was infused by a successful “After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens” (ASSETS) grant. Mohle designed the grant around the CyberPatriot cybersecurity curriculum. The grant provides services to participants at Bullard, Duncan, Edison, and Hoover High Schools throughout the academic year.

“It was a logical step to extend the successful ASSETS program into middle school,” Mohle said. “Instead of focusing on cybersecurity, the grant committee decided to address the societal issue of gender disparity in computer science.”

When asked if middle school students had the brain power for a course in C programming, Mohle responded with a Java story. “I had ten Sophomores at Patino High School [in Fresno] enrolled in an online Java programming class. DSN 1070 funds paid for a face-to-face tutor who met the high school students during a free class period. Thanks to a supportive and forward-thinking staff at Patino, all the high school students learned to program in Java and passed the class. I suspect the Coder Girlz program will surprise us with how well young students react to an intense problem-solving environment.”

Mohle, 58, is a programmer by trade and earned his master’s degree in Computer Science using a DEC “minicomputer” and the C language. “There wasn’t any C++ back then,” Mohle continued. “You had to learn a lot about computers before you wrote a line of code. The modern programming languages today abstract programming tasks such as dynamic memory allocation and freeing unneeded heap space. Back in the days of C, if you didn’t understand memory and addressing, you wrote a program with memory leaks and eventually watched your program crash and burn.”

Mohle certainly hopes the Coder Girlz experience minimal crashing and burning, and is excited about the growth the new coder girls will attain. To learn more, contact Mohle at dennis.mohle@fresnocitycollege.edu.