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Where are all the girl engineers?

Wed, 11/20/2013 - 11:04am
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

I recently went to a “Pumpkin Sling” (aka Punkin’ Chunkin’) where participants designed trebuchets to see who could get theirs to throw a pumpkin the farthest. A lot of the teams were made up of kids, who all did an incredible job building the machines. I was particularly inspired by a young man from a Cub Scout troop who very clearly outlined how the machine worked and how they had built it.

Then I realized out of the 10 or so teams, there was not a single girl. There were high school teams and teams from the community, but absolutely no women. This is an amazing way to educate young kids and get them inspired (like the little Cub Scout) by how fun engineering can be, so where were all the girls?

After seeing a recent commercial, I think I found them doing something as equally awesome as the boys.

I’ve written about GoldieBlox before in a blog I called, “Princess or engineer: What will your daughter be?. Basically, GoldieBlox was designed by a female engineer at Stanford who was upset by the lack of engineering and STEM opportunities and toys aimed at girls. She decided that since statistically, girls are more likely to be interested in books than building, she created a toy/book combo that is aimed specifically at utilizing the strengths and interests of girls in order to teach them about basic engineering concepts.  

Girls are able to follow the story of “Goldie” as she goes on an adventure. The first book details the story of Goldie designing a “spinning machine” to help her dog chase his tail. The reader uses figurines, a pegboard, wheels, axles, blocks, washers, a crank and ribbon to act out the story in real life and, in turn, learn how a belt drive works. In the second book (now available) Goldie helps her friends compete in a Princess Pageant and uses wheels, blocks, axels, spaces, a band and ribbon to create the parade float in one of nine different designs to tackle the ideas of wheels and axels.

Recently, the company released a video showing a life-size demonstration of what girls could learn from the book and toy. It opens with a stereotypical commercial for a general pink “girl toy”, before the girls watching get annoyed and come up with their own engineering game.

 

The house-sized contraption in the video was made by the three girls: Sabrina, Raven, and Reese with a little help from (adult) inventor Brett. Obviously, the “engineering” in this video reflects just the basic principles of how things work, but it’s an attempt to make understanding these larger concepts a reality. The girls learn how using pulleys, drive belts, and other components to create a moving masterpiece can be really cool and fun. The writers also took a Beastie Boys song, rewrote the lyrics and had a 8 year old girl rap in the background.

Plus, as a big proponent of education for everyone regardless of gender, race, social status or any other quality, it’s amazing to see kids so excited about learning. They’re engaged, they’re involved and they’re having fun. That’s what will inspire them to keep learning, whether they pursue a career in engineering or decide to become a journalist, this means they will at least understand what engineering is (at a basic level) and decide if they like it or not.

So, it’s probably not hard to tell why I find the videos listening to the girls explain what’s happening particularly amazing.

As it turns out, the girls weren’t building a trebuchet because they were learning how to build a whole houseful of contraptions. Maybe next year we can have a whole herd of kids doing both.

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