Code Girls: Top Secret American Brainpower During World War II

97803163525501Today we often hear that children must learn how to code as the only way to be prepared for the technical challenges they will encounter as adults. I used to teach coding to children at my school, but after reading Code Girls, I am reminded that we should not lose sight of the importance of a broad education that emphasizes languages, math, science, music, and all the other subjects that make up the liberal arts. This type of education serves people well, because it ensures that students possess thinking skills and develop the wherewithal to learn, when necessary, new types of technical skills, such as coding and programming.

in Code Girls author Liza Mundy tells the story of how young women, many of whom were academically prepared in the liberal arts to become teachers, came to work for the Army and Navy in Washington, D.C. during World War II. They mastered extraordinary technical skills, learning how to decipher complicated and perplexing coded wartime communications.

The book describes how thousands of these young women — recruited with no idea of what they would be doing — learned how figure out cyphers and break codes, thereby ensuring that the United States military knew what its enemies were planning or doing. The women poured over intercepted messages from enemy countries and by breaking open these messages helped to save lives, sink ships, down airplanes, and fool enemies. Their work helped to change the course for the United States in World War II.   Continue reading

Admiral Grace Hopper & Her Singular Achievements

Public Domain from the U.S. Navy website.

Public Domain from the U.S. Navy website.

In the late 1980s, early in my educational technology career, I attended a one-day conference about technology in schools. Held in a hotel in the Washington, DC area — I don’t remember which one — the conference convened a small number of teachers, identified as early adopters, people from that National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, what seemed hundreds of technology consultants from places like Cambridge, Palo Alto, and various state universities, and one older, somewhat fragile woman far ahead in the front of the room, who attended for a short time.

That was my first encounter with the life of retired Admiral Grace Hopper. She lived for only a few more years after that, passing away at the age of 85, but I remember her face, her eagle-eyed attention, and the reverence with which others in the room regarded her.

Yale University has decided to change the name of its residential Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College, honoring the computer scientist who played a significant role in moving the country (and the world) into the age of technology and who became a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. Hopper received a master’s degree and PhD in mathematics from Yale and was one of the mathematicians  who programmed some of the earliest computers before and during World War II.                                             Continue reading

Why Did It Take So Long to Get More Women in Computer Sciences?

This podcast from National Public Radio’s Planet Money explains how women were early programmers and why their numbers dropped off as the digital age progressed. The podcast was originally broadcast in 2014, but I just discovered it when it was rebroadcast. Also, check out the graph that goes with the program..Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 6.04.52 PM

Women in programming and computer science  are ongoing topics of interest on this blog.

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ENIAC: The First U.S. Computer and How Women Made It Work

ENIAC 6People — young and old — enjoy learning about the first computer in the United States, ENIAC, booted up in 1946. Every 21st Century learner needs to know about this amazing machine and the story of the first programmers.

A few weeks ago I visited Philadelphia and had a special opportunity to visit ENIAC. This huge, old-fashioned computer is owned by the Smithsonian Institution  (read this article), but parts of it are still housed in a building at the University of Pennsylvania, almost exactly where it was originally set up. ENIAC could be  programmed to do extensive calculations much faster than humans could calculate.

The letters in ENIAC stand for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.                             Continue reading