How To Bridge The Gender Gap In STEM
Activities to get your girls started with their STEM journey
March marks Women's History Month and as such, we would like to dedicate a post to honour all the ladies and powerful females that have a significant impact on your life. This month not only celebrates women's achievements but also raises awareness against bias. The last 5 years have seen major changes in the tech space where powerhouses like Linda Liukas and Susan Wojcicki, some of the many famous women in tech emerged. These women have not only made their marks in tech but have also set the benchmark for female domination in years to come. They have also given women a voice and a platform in the industry to showcase their achievements.
According to computerscience.org, women now represent 47% of the workforce as compared to 38% in the early 1970s however, only 12% of engineers are females. Two-thirds of elementary-aged children indicate an interest in science, however as they enter middle school, the percentage of interested girls falls significantly. This is possibly due to the stereotype that tech is portrayed as being a "very geeky male" industry.
Research has shown that diverse teams tend to perform better and that individuals from different genders bring a different perspective to the table that can lead to more innovative solutions. Having some diversity in the thought process also leads to better problem-solving as a female's point of view increases the capability to understand the pain points of your target demographic. A study by Credit Suisse also shows that organisations with at least 1 female team member brought it a higher return on equity and net income growth in comparison to teams that only consisted of males. Computer Science is a growing field and one where women definitely cannot be left behind. This is why more needs to be done in terms of encouraging more female participation in the world of tech.
"If women don’t participate in tech, with its massive prominence in our lives and society, we risk losing many of the economic, political and social gains we have made over the decades."
This quote by Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, holds a great deal of power in saying that if females do not take the opportunity to participate in this technological shift that the world is going through, all the effort from the women in the past is going to go to waste. With technology holding such a prominent place in our lives, it is only essential that we grow along with it.
With the passing of International Women's Day, what better way could there be to highlight some of the amazing women in the industry and the success they have achieved. Aside from that, we would also like to provide some useful tips on how your little girls can kickstart their journey in the STEM world.
Hello Ruby, Ages 4-6
Hello Ruby, written by Linda Luikas is children’s picture book about the world of computers, technology and programming. It now also has a range of apps, exercises, games and even curriculum for children aged 4-6. The platform's FREE exercises provide a great way for your child to introduce themselves to computational thinking concepts in a fun and engaging manner. This includes a combination of unplugged and on-screen activities. Here's how you can get started:
1. My First Computer
This unplugged activity is a great introductory step into the world of technology and computers. Through this exercise, kids will be able to design and personalise their very own computers. This helps them understand the different components that make a computer unit and realise that it consists of very small elements. In addition, they will also learn about personalization in terms of designing and creating their own types of computers in different ways, motor coordination and collaboration skills. Documenting the entire process would be great for reflection as well. You can check out the activity here.
2. Ruby With Scratch
Scratch is a block-based programming interface where kids can create stories, animations and games. With Ruby's downloadable sprite package, you can now add a Ruby twist to your creations! Scratch fosters creativity, systematic reasoning and collaboration amongst users. Definitely a great way to introduce your child to the online world of programming in a really fun and colourful manner. Get started with Scratch here.
littleBits, Ages 6-16
littleBits, founded by Ayah Bdeir, best described as electronic legos, is a system of colourful electronic blocks that snap together to turn ideas into inventions. This comprises of several circuit building kits designed for music lovers, families, coders and many more to encourage kids to invent, create and share anything.
1. 21st-Century Skills
The kits are designed around real-world problem solving using technology by practising collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity which are amongst the top skills required in the 21st century. For example, the Energy Awareness Design Challenge helps kids understand the importance of conserving energy. Through this process, kids will be required to identify the ways energy could potentially be wasted in their daily lives and how they could use the kits to come up with a solution. One solution to this problem was to create a daylight reminder for people to conserve energy.
2. Design Thinking
Design Thinking, defined by The Interactive Design Foundation, is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be apparent with our initial level of understanding. littleBits requires kids to come up with solutions to real-world problems by implementing design solutions. Once they have come up with a prototype, they will be required to iterate on their design based on feedback provided. This is a key step in the Design Thinking methodology. Being able to come up with prototypes based on what users need helps them ideate and be extrinsically influenced without their own bias of what can and cannot be done. You could check out this case study on how littleBits was incorporated into a STEAM program in Riverpoint Academy High School.
Adafruit, Ages 9 & above
Adafruit Industries, founded by Limor Fried, is the most versatile online platform for learning electronics and making the best-designed products for makers of all ages. The platform covers a large variety of mechanics from designing a Printing Circuit Board (PCB) to printing, soldering and testing. The platform also launched its very own YouTube channel to teach and inspire inventors all over the world to create with thousands of open-sourced projects.
1. Circuit Playground Classic
This device is designed to be used with Arduino IDE and Code.org and is one of the best ways to learn to programme on real hardware without the hassle of soldering and sewing. Simply plug it into your computer and start coding! From beginners to experts, Circuit Playground has loads to offer. Begin the Arduino journey here.
2. Circuit Python
Circuit Python is a programming language designed to experiment and learn to programme on low-cost microcontroller boards. Python is one of the fastest growing programming languages and one of the easiest to read and understand if you're new to coding. It also has a built-in interpreter which simplifies the entire process. All you need is a computer, a USB cable and your microcontroller to get started.
What Can You Do To Encourage More Girls To Join Tech?
Expose your children to computational thinking games at an early age. Learning these concepts in a fun, engaging, and relevant manner might just be enough to spark their interest in the subject. Code.org and Computer Science Education Week provide great resources for them to get started.
Here are some great unplugged activities you could try with your kids:
1. Potato King Says If-Else [Ages 3-6]
This is a great way to introduce conditions in programming as well as a way to encourage parent-child communication through an activity. Conditional statements contain either true or false values. In the case of an If-Else statement, it will execute a block of code if true and it will execute another block of code if it is false. This is really similar to Simon Says and teaches kids logical thinking. You can download the activity here.
2. Real Life Algorithms [Ages 5-7]
An algorithm is really similar to a recipe. It gives instructions to your computer in order to solve a problem or reach a goal. This activity requires players to help each other make paper aeroplanes using algorithmic thinking. This helps kids come up with solutions based on clear definitions on the steps required in comparison to coming up with a single solution to a problem. You can check out the activity here.
3. Turing Tumble [Ages 8 & up]
Turing Tumble is a game built and powered by marbles to solve logic puzzles. It teaches kids the value of creativity and logic when it comes to figuring out how computers work. The game does not require any coding syntax to play, which makes it really simple to learn and is completely offline. Its endless puzzles to solve will definitely keep you and your kids busy for hours! You can find out more here.
Encourage a growth mindset
Having a growth mindset suggest that your skills and abilities are constantly changing and not pre-determined. Children with this mindset know and believe that they can achieve anything they want if they put their mind to it with dedication and hard work. This plays a key role in complex problem-solving at a later stage when learning computational thinking concepts. A growth mindset can be achieved through grit and resilience. Grit, championed by Angela Duckworth's research, is the motivational drive that keeps you going while going through a difficult task while resilience is the optimism to continue despite experiencing some roadblocks. This can be inculcated by adopting flexible thinking patterns which allow kids to be more flexible in their thought processes and by setting small goals that align with their purpose that results in a higher success rate and increases their speed of accomplishing goals.
Combat stereotypes on gender
We strongly believe girls should never be limited by the traditional takes on gender stereotypes. Encourage them to pursue what catches their attention and passion and refrain from saying certain toys or activities are meant for males. Try not to set any boundaries when it comes to their imagination to help them understand that the possibilities are endless. We are often unaware that we may be encouraging these type of stereotypes and realising it is a great first step to give them the opportunities they deserve.
Teach the value of failure
This ties in along with inculcating a growth mindset to look at failure as a learning opportunity instead of a setback and can be done by focusing on the learning process; finding out where the mistake was made and what could have been done to prevent it. Failure is inevitable when learning something new; be it Computer Science or picking up a new skill. This is a crucial part of the learning process as it fosters persistence. Chances are no matter how well you have thought out a solution, it will almost never work the first time you try it and it is through this iteration of ideas, where kids really learn from their mistakes. The learning point is vital in the process as it helps kids develop the right mindset when approaching problems in the future.
The benefits of having more females in the tech space definitely cannot be contained in a single blog post, just thinking about what this diversity can do in reaching new levels of value creation is truly inspiring. Having such amazing role models in the space such as Reshma Saujani, Kimberly Bryant and Rebecca Kantar only mean the younger generation of females have more relatable professionals to look up to. As an educational technology startup who is also passionate about making a change in the way children are educated, we too fully support and commit to the movement. Join in to change the way our kids learn.
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