Do girls prefer to code in groups?

I consider myself an active member of the Computing At School community, and regularly read and contribute to the forum discussions there.

This morning, I had a bit of a rant in response to a post by one of the non-teaching members of CAS. If you’re a member you can go and read the discussion in it’s full context. Instead, I’ve just extracted the two points that I took most issue with, but please bear in mind (and in fairness to the member) that I have taken them out of their original context.

I’m not sure how valid my responses are, but I hope in sharing my honest responses you as a reader will let me know if you think my response is out of line. The quotes below are taken from the post and all the comments below are my response.


”…the idea that girls are repelled by the nature of programming as a solitary activity”

It is believed that 49.76% of the world’s population are female, that’s roughly half of the world.

Does making a statement like “Girls prefer…” equate to stating that “Half of the world prefer…” ?

It would be a very bold (and flawed) statement to say that “50% of people prefer… pink, flowers, jewellery etc.”.

If there is a difference between the two statements above, perhaps it is based on the fact that we can readily distinguish (in a binary fashion) whether someone is male or female and record these statistics easily.

As it is less easy to observe & record differences between populations’ perceptions, values, beliefs and experiences, we can fall into the trap of making generalised assumptions and assertions based on out-dated gender stereotypes and personal experiences of our own gender bias.

The simple truth is, much of how we act is down to the choices we make. The choices we make are based on our values. Our values are informed by our experiences and perceptions. Yes, a portion of our behaviour is influenced by our gender, age, physical condition, need to survive, reflex etc. but just because we are male or female does not mean that we will always act in a certain way, or make a particular choice and it’s ludicrous to suggest so.

As teachers – should we really be trying to divide our learners into two discrete gender groups and then implement policies to cater to the specific needs of both groups? To do so, would be to ignore the other groups that learners fall into.

Instead we need to recognise that there are many differences not just gender, but cultural, religious, social background and many more. Then, as teachers (and employers) we should try to accommodate and allow for these differences where practical.

As a teacher, I try to make my lessons challenging from a problem solving perspective to stimulate interest and enthusiasm. This is a different challenge from making the learning inaccessible to certain groups of learners because of their gender, status or background and thus losing their interest.

I believe that rather than argue whether or not differences exist that our efforts would be better spent supporting the activity of the CAS Include group.

CAS Include are “a group of teachers, academics and professionals who are passionate about giving ALL students the opportunity to study Computing regardless of gender, race, socio-economic status, SEN or disabilities.”

“We recognise that at present many students are affected by the stereotypes surrounding the subject and we aim to make Computing an inclusive subject that any child can enjoy if they choose, regardless”

There is a CAS Include event on 15th November that you can support by attending, or persuading others to attend.

but “single combat” programming seems unlikely to be the most efficient way to get code written. I suspect a lot of boys are put off programming as well, since in addtion to work out why 96% of girls never even properly try to learn to code most boys don’t either.

But aside from the weak case of pairs programming, I don’t know of any “team” coding methodologies, anyone here got an idea ?

Now… going back to the original post that questioned the effectiveness of programming in teams or solo; I have never programmed professionally in a workplace, so have no experience I can refer to in that professional capacity. I would be extremely naive to think that I would be qualified to comment on something I have no experience of.

However, in my teaching I integrated teams/pairs a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. It has transformed the manner in which I teach, making the learners less dependant upon me.

As a teacher, the most important outcome to me is the quality of the learning experience and the impact that has on the learner not the effectiveness of the programmed solution. That is not to dismiss entirely the quality of a programmed solution, it’s just that my effectiveness as a teacher is judged on the performance of my learners in an exam – not the quality of the programs they produce.

From my teaching experience, I have discovered many benefits from encouraging learners to solve problems together with their peers.

As many of my classes are mixed ability, it helps me differentiate the learning – as pupils support and coach each other.

So I would encourage teachers to adopt team/pair programming exercises in their classes, no matter what the gender mix, racial or other background of their learners and judge the results for themselves.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian Lynch says:

    Couple of different issues here. Pair programming and agile techniques are considered good practice these days. Gender is a different issue. What the baseline tests seem to be showing is that without teaching there is no significant difference in the competence of boys and girls at any age from Y7 to Y10. So if both have equal aptitude why is one represented much more than the other. If it was general cultural bias would that not show up just a little in the baseline tests? I don’t know the answer but it would be interesting to know more, especially if we want KS4 take up to get anywhere near to subjects like history, geography or physics. If we are only getting take up from 50% of the population its never going to be optimum.


  2. It’s an extremely interesting point and one I hadn’t considered.Looking back on the past year, I’d say (that whilst there are a lot of individuals who would like to work alone) the majority of students – regardless of gender- learning about coding or programming for the first time wanted to work in pairs.

    However, once they became more confident I’d be inclined to argue that it was actually the boys who wanted to work in a group while the girls were happier to work alone.

    In order to introduce the principles of coding (I deliver the primary school computing curriculum) I used “Coding with Frozen” and “Coding with Angry Birds” before moving onto more intense programming. Again the girls were more inclined to work alone during this exercise.

    My honest opinion is that the boys generally see it as more of a group task because it’s “fun.” We created a basic football based game which a lot of the boys wanted to work together on because it was a common interest. However, the girls were very focused on producing more complex games with levels and point systems and were more willing to work without support.

    Again though, I’m just speaking generally and I don’t want to sound like I’m saying “boys like football, girls don’t” because that’s obviously not the case I’m only speaking of the experience I had last year.


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