MARICOPA — Last fall, Mayor Christian Price proclaimed Nov. 8 Maricopa STEAM Day.
The announcement was made with Maricopa Unified School District’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Integration Specialist Donna Jagielski and the students chosen as chief science officers and city council present.
STEAM Day is sponsored by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors as part of the worldwide Chief Science Officer program.
This fall, some of those same students can be found from 5-6 p.m. on Wednesdays teaching hands-on coding materials and related current events topics as part of the Maricopa High School STEM Club, hosted by the Maricopa Public Library.
The course is called Girls Who Code. The first fall session is now in full swing. The second session will begin after fall break on Oct. 15 and run through just before the winter holiday break. January may bring another session depending on several factors.
One recent topic was the importance of “precision in the exact sequences of coding — the fact that it is pattern-based,” Jagielski said.
This was discussed in terms of how a computer hacker can “crack” a code or password and enter a person’s account.
“They learn of a password by cracking a code. If it’s a very simple pattern it’s an easy code to crack and that’s how a cyberattack happens,” Jagielski said. “We discuss how to create strong passwords and the importance of this within the workplace.”
Using the example of a ransom demand made last April 2019 in exchange for school data held hostage made on the Flagstaff Unified School District, the MUSD CSOs and Jagielski engaged the Girls Who Code class in a discussion about the dual nature of technology — that, just as in many areas of life, technology has a dark and a light side, pluses and minuses, good and bad.
Dr. Jagielski offers the example of drone delivery of goods purchased online. Drones can deliver packages faster than a truck driven by a person using a road driving through traffic, yet receiving packages by drone delivery means you may give up some privacy as the drone flies by your windows, over your yard, and down your street.
In this situation, Girls Who Code were taught there are three options to try to recover the stolen school data.
One, pay the ransom. Two, break the encrypted code yourself without providing the ransom demanded. Or three, be able to retrieve all data in some other way.
The third option is the one Flagstaff Unified School District used because they were prepared to do so. They had hired an offline backup system of storage, essentially an external hard drive type of storage or a network and server, not their own, located somewhere else, kept by someone else, for their protection.
“In this Girls Who Code group we have wonderful, robust conversations bringing in current issues,” Jagielski said. “We discuss how coding impacts our society and the world we live in and the decisions we make every day.”
Girls Who Code is for male and female students in grades 6-12 and all skill levels, including those with no prior coding exposure, who are very welcome.
“Computer science is a beautiful skill to learn early because it helps teach problem-solving skills and it helps build resilience and grit in students,” Jagielski. “That’s what will be expected from them in the workforce.”