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Thursday, October 30, 2014


Recently, as I was teaching a review lesson on how to use the different search features of the library catalog to a group of fourth grade students, I used the term “vanilla” to differentiate the older less flexible interface with the two newer versions that have more options for students to customize their search experience. As I related the term to Minecraft to help students understand what I meant, a female student looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Mrs. Barton, are YOU a GAMER?? I am. Do you play Minecraft?” After reflecting on this short interaction with a student (and explaining that I prefer RPGs, although I recognize the draw of sandbox games), a few questions came to my mind. Are perceived stereotypes of gamers and coders affecting the likelihood for female students to pursue education and careers in computer science, specifically game creation? What can educators do at the K12 level to prepare female students for possible careers in the computer science field? Should gaming and coding in the K12 classroom be considered essential learning?

Some interesting findings emerged as I began to research females’ involvement in gaming or coding. As of the 2014 gaming demographics report from the Entertainment Software Association, female gamers currently make up 48% of the market. Unexpectedly, at least to me, a larger percentage of women over the age of 30 than boys under the age of 18 are gamers (Essential, 2014). Female coders, however, make up only around 18% of the professionals in the industry, an industry dominated by white males in their late 20s. Most women who begin a degree program in computer science do not finish it. 1984 seems to have been a turning point for a large decline of women pursuing computer science professions (with continued growth in other STEM professions), with one possible cause being a biased cap on classes due to a large influx of students into computer science academic programs. (Guzdial, 2014) Are there other factors that could be affecting the rise in female gamers and the drop in female coders?

Professionally, K12 education is dominated by women (76%). (Goldring, 2013) However, most students currently enrolled in high school AP STEM classes are white or Asian males. (Guzdial, 2014) Teachers who implement educational gaming in their classrooms are most likely those who game for personal enjoyment, regardless of gender. (Takeuchi, 2014) My tentative conclusion from these studies is that women who left the field in university in the 1980s are possibly some of those women who pursued another career such as teaching, but continued gaming for enjoyment, and see its value in an educational setting. They are a large part of the industry growth as users, but not as creators.

Is there more we can do to promote coding and gaming among students, not just girls, but all students? At what point will educational content games (which in my opinion are mostly more expensive versions of flash cards) be replaced with sandbox and virtual experience games? And can we, as educators, begin to implement gaming and coding in the curriculum as an essential skill? And how can we take a 4th grade girl's love of gaming and help her realize a possible career path?


Essential facts about the computer and video game industry: 2014 sales, demographic, and usage data. (2014, April 1). Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Goldring, R., Gray, L., and Bitterman, A. (2013). Characteristics of public and private Elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States: Results from the 2011–12 schools and staffing survey (NCES 2013-314). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from

Guzdial, M. (2014, October 30). NPR When Women Stopped Coding in 1980's: As we repeat the same mistakes. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Holdren, J. (2013, May 31). Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education 5-year strategic plan: A Report from the Committee on STEM Education National Science and Technology Council. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Takeuchi, L. M., & Vaala, S. (2014). Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.