Oct 28, 2014

Computing Skills

photo by Michal Zacharzewski, via RGBstock.com
Because of the "screen time" issues, it's hard to advocate really young children using computers, but that doesn't mean they can't learn the logical algorithmic thinking methods required for computer programming. These can be as simple as giving numbers to sequences (e.g. "1. Eat dinner, then 2. We'll go to the playground") or showing cause-and-effect (e.g., If we press this button, the light will go on).

Things to consider if you are new to computers:
See more resources on Pinterest.

~ until next time, Yvonne

Oct 21, 2014

Boys and Girls in STEM

photo by sulaco229 (Robert), via RGBstock.com

The natural question people have for me after I run a blog series on Girls in STEM is: what about the boys? It's always a good point. It's true that many STEM areas, particularly engineering and technology--Engineer's Playground's areas of specialty--are male-dominated. But studying why girls leave STEM also shows that some of the same issues keep many boys from pursuing STEM. 

Women are the canaries in the coal mine. -- Leonore Blum, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist

Not all boys are good at math: Evidence shows is that many interventions made to encourage more women and girls into STEM also help men and boys who don't fit the stereotypes. It's a fallacy is that all boys are good at math. In reality, male performance is bi-modal--distributed at the very high levels and at the very low. Female performance, on the other hand, is more distributed in a bell curve. (Here's Scientific American's timeless overview of research on gender differences, "Sex, Math and Scientific Achievement".) 

Not all boys know how to use technology: So many engineering professors lament to me, "Kids these days don't know how to fix things." One machine shop instructor even showed me his "Glue Shelf"--all the glue that his (mostly male) students used to connect their metal parts together. After their parts failed to stay together, he confiscated the glue and informed them that screws, bolts, and nuts might work better.

Soft skills make a difference, but need to be taught: More social, collegial, communicative environments help retain women, but they also develop the soft skills needed for success in STEM. However, many STEM programs, particularly engineering, don't actually teach these in a technical setting. This is unfortunate, since most recruiters encourage young engineers to develop these soft skills for success (see Thomas Net's "5 Must-Have Soft Skills for Engineers' Career Success," or NES Global Talent's "Soft Skills"). Some studies show that salaries for those with good soft skills can be up to $5000/year higher than those without them (see ASME's "Public Speaking and the Type 'C' Personality").

So whether you are teaching boys or girls or both, consider new ways to teach STEM. Such interventions can encourage both girls and boys into STEM--and your students will thank you for the opportunity to see STEM differently.

~ until next time, Yvonne

Oct 7, 2014

Toys to build STEM skills

photo by Engineer's Playground
For young children, look for those more mechanical in nature rather than electronic or computer to build concrete experiences:
  • Q-Ba-MazeThese interconnecting blocks can build marble runs of surprising complexity. Start building the mazes yourself and let your child drop the marbles and watch (or predict) where they will come out. This helps encourage observation skills as early as 3-4 years old. By age 5 so, your children will be able to use that spatial and physics understanding to build their own mazes. This toy can also be good for an older child who may not have had many spatial experiences, as it doesn't have a childish feel.
  • GearationThis motorized gear set is sturdy enough to be handled by young children with supervision. Allow your child to turn the gears by hand so he or she can figure out how each gear works. Then you can turn on the motor. At around 3 years old, your child will be ready to mesh the gear teeth together and set up the gears so they turn each other. The refrigerator version is a great starter, and even older children and adults find this extremely engaging.
See more products good for engaging in STEM on the Engineer's Playground website.

~ until next time, Yvonne