Mother-Daughter Programming: An Intergenerational Approach to Teaching Coding
May 10, 2023
Lara Fritsche-Riparip is a talented software engineer who also happens to be the co-founder of GirlsCodeToo, a Swiss-based organization working to motivate young girls across Switzerland to use coding as a way of expressing their creativity. Similar to imagi, GirlsCodeToo is on a mission to inspire more girls to study computer science in order to help to close the gender gap in tech. We chatted with Lara about why she founded her organization and her new approach to teaching coding with imagi Edu through workshops designed for girls and their mothers (or other close family members).
imagi: Why did you start GirlsCodeToo? Why is this work personally important to you?
Lara: You know, when I was growing up, I wasn’t exposed to coding and computer science, and if I had been earlier, I might have discovered my passion sooner! When I was completing my Masters at ETH in Neural Systems and Computation, I began teaching as a side job. It was depressing to have a class of only 1 girl and 10 boys. When I asked the few girls in my classes to invite their friends, they didn’t want to because they were embarrassed. It was really during these moments that I knew I wanted to change the perception of coding and how you can learn coding, so that I could ensure more girls would remain interested.
imagi: We can tell this is very important work for you! How did you turn an idea and desire to make a change into the organization GirlsCodeToo?
Lara: I had a lot of wonderful partners in the creation of GirlsCodeToo - many of whom were incredible professors at ETH who focused on topics ranging from gender inequality to game technology. We did quite a bit of research in the early stages at the Game Technology Center at ETH Zurich and included girls in the learning process to explore different ways of learning how to code and to get to the core of why girls would lose interest in coding. GirlsCodeToo really was a passion project for me, and I was also really lucky to have the support of David Cleres, who was also deeply concerned about the lack of representation of women in computer science classes and the field of tech. We started the organization in 2021 and held some of our first few workshops for girls at Sparks Works, an international strategic innovation company who kindly let us use their space. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, especially as a female entrepreneur and founder of a non-profit, but many coding workshops later, I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished together.
imagi: How did you come up with the idea for a mother-daughter coding workshop?
Lara: I think it is really important that families are involved in the learning process and can help provide more consistency throughout their kids' learning journey. It’s much easier to be involved when parents are learning right along with their kids! I also knew that pair programming, a software development technique where two programmers work together on a task, is a great way for beginning coders to learn. One person is coding, while the other one gives instruction. Pair programming allows for knowledge sharing, building communication, and encourages each programmer (in this case a parent and their child) to think in different ways. Finally, giving a student an opportunity to be in the driver’s seat and teach their parents something new can be very empowering. If I can help students build their confidence in their coding abilities as they learn new skills with someone they feel comfortable with, I am hoping that confidence can extend to situations outside of the workshop.
imagi: What a brilliant idea! Thank you for sharing! So, you run coding workshops all the time at GirlsCodeToo using lots of different resources. How did you discover imagi and why did you choose to try it?
Lara: I actually learned about imagi through one of the Masters students I was supervising at ETH in Zurich Switzerland. I was so very focused on changing the perception of coding as a solitary activity that maybe a hacker did in their basement, and imagi Edu and the imagiCharm felt so different. With imagi, coding felt like it could be artistic, bright, joyful, and most importantly, an activity that could be done in community.
imagi: You are so right - changing the perception of “who” can be a coder and “what” coding looks like is so critical, and we are so happy you gave imagi a try. So, we’re dying to know, how did the workshop go?
Lara: First of all, I was blown away by the creativity and imagination that imagi inspired in our participants, whose ages ranged from 13-17 years old. Right away, our participants were able to dive into using coding to uniquely express themselves. One of the girls coded a duck in the first part of the workshop and I just thought, “How did she come up with that idea? I would never have thought of that!” As engaged and excited as girls were throughout the workshop, it was when the workshop finished that I realized something truly special had occurred. We ended up with a line of girls wanting to learn more, and we stayed for an hour talking with them, their moms, grandmothers, and family members. “Where can I do more of this? What would I need to do if I wanted to pursue coding in the future?” they asked. It might have been only a room of students, but it felt really good to know that we had made an impact and sparked their curiosity.
imagi: Wow, Lara, we are so inspired by the work you are doing! It sounds like an amazing workshop. Do you have any advice for other educators, organizations, or individuals who might want to lead a similar workshop using imagi?
Encourage Coding in Pairs - We have seen so much success at our workshops when girls code in pairs, either with friends or their parents, so we’d even recommend that parents have their daughter invite a friend to join the workshop too. It’s so empowering for them to be able to teach their friends. We love that you have an imagiCharm besties starter kit, because it’s so important to reinforce the idea that coding doesn’t have to be done alone, and girls are less likely to quit when they have a friend to code with.
Start with a Small Group - If it’s your first time leading a coding workshop, I’d recommend starting with a smaller group of students and make sure you have enough instructors. Even if your instructors are just volunteers and have never coded before, that’s okay, but it’s always helpful to have enough instructors to help out.
Over Prepare for Your Workshop - imagi is pretty easy to implement, even for beginners, but I think it’s always better to go through the motions of your workshop ahead of time. Ensure your imagiCharms are charged and the devices you are using (whether that’s laptops, tablets, or phones) are working properly. Review the teaching slides or worksheets, code 1 or 2 designs yourself, and connect some of the imagiCharms to make sure you are confident explaining the process to your participants.
imagi: Such great advice! So, what’s next for the mother-daughter coding workshops?
We had so much success with our first one, we are currently pitching the idea to corporations. We think it would be great if parents would be open to bringing their kids to work, introducing them to new careers, and giving them a chance to learn coding in an intergenerational setting. While it certainly doesn’t have to be limited to tech companies, there’s something very powerful for girls to be able to see how coding can help them in a career someday.
About Lara Fritsche-Riparip:
Lara Fritsche-Riparip is currently a Frontend Software Engineer for Avaloq. She studied Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine with a specialization in Neuroscience for her Bachelor’s Degree. She went on to study Neural Systems and Computation at ETH Zürich and University of Zürich for her Master’s Degree, during which, she developed her own yoga app, which corrects yoga poses in real-time. With a passion for education and the importance of making computer science skills accessible to children, she co-founded GirlsCodeToo, a non-profit organization focused on supporting and encouraging girls 8-18 to develop an interest in technology.