The small number of women role models in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers is widely recognized.
Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, is among a group of educators and entrepreneurs developing toys, books, games, and kits to attract girls to technical careers.
She introduced books and construction toys for girls centered on a fictional role model, Goldie, in response to her experience of collaborating mostly with men during her studies of product design in Stanford’s mechanical engineering department.
The first book, intended for girls, ages 5 to 9, is called GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine. Goldie lives in “her engineering house with gears and moving parts everywhere,” five character figurines (including Nacho the dog and Benjamin Cranklin the cranky cat), and a construction toy, featuring a pegboard, wheels, axles, blocks, a crank, a ribbon, and washers.
Goldie creates a “spinning machine” for her dog, who enjoys chasing his tail and yelling out random words in Spanish, by deconstructing a ballerina music box and reverse engineering it. Girls can create their own spinning toys with as they read through the story.
Her next products include books with a pulley system elevator, a parade float, circuits and gears, and an eBook where Goldie learns to code.
Another product intended to increase girls’ skill and confidence in working with technology is Hummingbird, an educational robotics kit.
Developed at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute’s Arts and Bots program, spin-off startup BirdBrain Technologies, showcases robotics with craft materials and text to communicate thoughts, feelings, or ideas.
The kit includes a control board, lights, sensors, and motors.
Students (usually ages 11 and up) program their creations on a computer by dragging and dropping icons, so they don’t have to learn computer languages.
Students have experimented with making a robot from cardboard wrapped in tin foil that can twirl, flash lights, and even impersonate the Star Wars robot, R2D2.
Another project was a dragon made of paper and popsicle sticks that flaps its wings and hisses.
Others crafted a robotic arm with muscles made of cast-off pantyhose.
Pennsylvania students analyzed poetry, then created animated scenes for poems using the kit.
Elsewhere high school students created kinetic sculptures with sensors that detect environmental changes and respond with movement.
Others built a “coin monster” for the school’s ancient coin exhibit.
Research Associate Emily Hamner and Tom Lauwers, the founder of BirdBrain Technologies conducted workshops to learn girls’ goals and interests in making robots.
They learned that girls are most interested in creating robots that can tell stories, dance, communicate, and interact with people.
Hamner and Lauwers’ goal is to enable young people “to create whatever they can imagine,” to inspire students’ interest in STEM careers, and to increase their “understanding and confidence in using the technology.”
-*What toys and games have you seen increase young people’s interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics activities?