Practicing community service through coding

Marissa Manley is the president of the Girls Who Code Club at her school in Miami, Florida. She initially came to coding through her love of video games, but she’s also passionate about community service and hopes that her Club can make an impact on their community, even beyond their CS Impact Project. She knows a thing or two about community service herself; she gave a TEDx talk about how people can take what they love and apply it to community service, using one of her own coding creations, Marci the Flute Bot, as an example. Marci is a robot that moves to the sound of the flute (another one of Marissa’s passions), and Marissa uses her to teach elementary school children about music and robotics. Read more in our Q&A!

Marissa performing community service with Marci the Flute Bot.

What inspired you to start a Girls Who Code Club at your school?
Well, I first joined the club back when I was a freshman. I really wanted to join because ever since I was in middle school, I’ve wanted to program video games. I’ve always loved them, but I didn’t know where to start or how to code at the time. I started on my own, but when I got to high school and saw there was a Girls Who Code Club, I thought, Wow, great, I can join this. However, the Club was not in the best shape. The girl who started it did try her best because she also loved coding, but then she had to graduate. So she said, “Here, Marissa, you’re one of the very few members and you seem the most passionate about it, so I think you’d be able to help this club and bring it to the best state it could be.” I was honored by that, and I took it on, and now we’re just starting things up.

How has it been so far?
At first, we had some trouble gaining access to computers, but now that we’ve gotten that all under control, we’ve begun coding! After taking a poll, I discovered that all the members except one girl have never coded before, so I’m really excited to get them engaged. The members have been enthusiastic to get things started. Also, I’ve since paired up with the coders from our school’s robotics club, and at the next meeting, they will meet with us to get extra practice on coding for their robot. We also paired up with robotics to put together a Thanksgiving food basket for shelters in need of supplies. I’m extremely glad that it’s working out the way it is.

Why is it important for girls to learn how to code?
Well, a majority of the members in our computer science club were boys — I believe there are actually only one or two girls of the 30 members in the club. They just happened to not mind being in a space with boys, but a lot of girls are shy to join clubs with boys as a majority, since many times they consider the boys to be intimidating. It just so happens for me that I have always been that one girl who always hangs out with the guys. I’ve tried to bring some of my girl friends into things that sometimes involve guys, but they shy out. So I think having Girls Who Code will inspire the girls who want to join STEM to really get involved. It just eliminates a factor that may stop them from doing something that they want to do.

What are your hopes for your club?
Well, definitely a main one would be to get more girls involved with code. But our school has a lot of opportunities to get their clubs involved with community service efforts. For example, we had a hurricane drive to send supplies to Texas and Puerto Rico. I’m also the president of the Music Honor Society at our school, and we are going to put on performances at local nursing homes as a community service. So I haven’t had too much time to think about it for coding, but I definitely want to ask the girls in the club to maybe start thinking of ideas about how we can incorporate what our passions are with our community service. Alongside learning to code, one of the biggest hopes I have would be to show them that we can make our community better using things that we love to do.

Marissa giving her TEDx Talk about community service.

Not too long ago I did a TEDx Talk on how you can take what you love and put it to community service. What I actually did was, I made a robot that moved to the sound of playing the flute, and with the robot I’ve taken a step ahead and used this robot and flute to do community service by teaching kids about music and robotics. I travel around to elementary schools to present to students from kindergarten through 3rd grade about the basics of music and robotics. At first, I ask the children if they know what music is, know any songs, or possibly play an instrument yet. I explain the concept of music to them in a very broad, simplistic manner, show them my flute, and play for them. Then, I take out Marci, my robot; explain to them how I built her; and then demonstrate how I coded her to move to my flute playing. Afterwards, they all get their own “instrument” (paper megaphones, though I do hope to get plastic recorders one day) and sing to Marci individually to make her move around.

It happened to be that in my school district, budget cuts were made for extracurricular classes such as band, orchestra, chorus, and robotics, and many schools around my area lost these programs. While I do think it is extremely important to expose these amazing concepts to children of all ages, I believe that teaching children at a very young age leaves a more lasting impact on their lives. This project is very new (I created the idea two and a half years ago), and I have not yet worked on expanding my efforts to create a presentation more fit for older children. Over time, I do hope to potentially recruit more individuals to form more of a Flute Bot organization and do exactly that.

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Originally published at imagirlwhocodes.com on November 28, 2017.

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