Though we might not agree on the reasons why there is such a discrepancy between the percentage of women in the population and the percent who become engineers, we can all agree it’s not a good thing.
At the end of the day whether it’s an issue of nature, nurture, or a combination of the two, that can’t be the end of the discussion. The conversation needs to evolve to a place focused on addressing the issue.
Assuming there is nothing we can do to combat any hormone-induced reluctances to explore the engineering world, the focus lands squarely on offering girls and boys the same opportunities.
Great. Where do we start? Debbie Sterling, a Stanford engineer, thinks the solution might be in the very toys companies create for girls.
If you look at the toys targeted towards young kids, the divide can be pretty alarming. Boys: Legos, Erector sets, Lincoln Logs, building blocks. Girls: Dolls, books, dress up sets. A few years ago, the bigger companies got smart and started marketing their traditionally “male” toys to girls, but all they did was take the exact same toys and make them pink. This technique, in addition to being somewhat patronizing, fails to recognize and utilize the strengths and learning abilities of girls.
Sterling, who says she didn’t even really understand what engineering was until she was in high school, came up with a toy specifically targeted at girls. The toy, called GoldieBlox, is designed to teach basic engineering principles and is accompanied by a story about a girl named Goldie. Because young girls –recommended age is five to nine—are more inclined to be interested in reading than building, the combination of the two learning platforms were combined to make the ultimate toy.
Goldie’s first adventure, in which she decides to make a spinning machine to help her dog chase his tail, focuses on the concept of creating a belt drive. As more and more of Goldie’s friends want to join in the fun, the future-engineer is challenged to create an increasingly complicated belt drive with five figurines, a pegboard, five wheels, ten axles, five blocks, five washers, a crank and a ribbon.
The second and third books—not yet available—will introduce medium and long axles, and engineering lessons about a pulley elevator and parade float vehicle. The books are available as free e-book downloads with narration, animation and tutorials.
“GoldieBlox offers a much-needed female engineer role model who is smart, curious and accessible. She has the potential to get girls interested in engineering, develop their spatial skills and build self-confidence in their problem solving abilities. This means that GoldieBlox will nurture a generation of girls who are more confident, courageous and tech-savvy, giving them a real opportunity to contribute to the progress made by engineers in our society,” according to the website. [http://www.goldieblox.com/products/goldieblox-and-the-spinning-machine]