March 28, 2015, thirty-six girls, all from Holyoke, participated in Girls Connect LEGO Robotics Workshop at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center. Girls Connect is an intense one-day all-girl introduction to FIRST LEGO League. Organized by the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE), the day-long workshop was co-sponsored by Girls Inc. of Holyoke, LEGO Education, FIRST LEGO League and the MGHPCC.
Working in teams of five, the girls first built motorized autonomous robots. They then programmed the robots to perform certain tasks to solve a set of food safety missions. The FOOD FACTOR® Challenge was inspired by National Food Safety Education Month. Each team took a break from programming to discuss their approach with the judges. At the end of the day, the teams demonstrated what their robots could do in a friendly competition. In addition to the High Score award, the teams won awards in a number of categories, such as Troubleshooting, Creativity and Design. The awards are named for famous women computer scientists, including Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and Radia Joy Perlman. The emphasis on teamwork and the opportunity to meet with the judges complement the day-long experience of hands-on robotics and programming.
The teams were chaperoned by teachers and mentors from Holyoke’s McMahon, Sullivan and E.N. White schools, Girls Inc. of Holyoke, and Connections After School Program.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, (CAITE) is based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and works to address underrepresentation in information technology (IT) education and the workforce. The project is active throughout the state of Massachusetts as part of the Expanding Computer Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance. For more information on ECEP and its work across the United States, see ecepalliance.org