Saturday, August 29, 2015

More toys to promote S.T.E.M.

In my blog post of 9 October 2014 I wrote about GoldieBlox - a construction toy specifically designed for girls to promote their interest in S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

The toy has been extremely successful, and there is increasing interest in promoting girls' involvement with technology, especially at younger ages. In fact, there is increasing interest in promoting involvement with S.T.E.M. for all children.

There are two recent articles that look at this development:

The toys that could help close Silicon Valley's gender gap (from CNBC website) and How to teach computer science in nursery school; No assembler required (from The Economist online).

The first article focuses on the Dash & Dot robot developed by Wonder Workshop.

Wonder Workshop Dash & Dot robot pack
The CEO of Wonder Workshop, Vikas Gupta, was inspired to develop toy robots that teach children how to code in order to introduce his 4-year-old daughter to technology.

The article states, "As early as second grade, girls begin to form stereotypes associating boys with math, according to a 2015 study conducted by the University of Washington. By the time they enter college, men are already more than four times more likely to have an intention to major in computer science and engineering than women, the study found."

The article has links to this study and to another article relating to this company. In addition, it mentions KinderLab Robotics, which has introduced a toy to help very young children learn to code.

The second article focuses specifically on KinderLab Robotics' toy, KIBO.

KIBO robot kit from KinderLab Robotics
The article explains, "KIBO is designed for those aged four to seven. Instead of arranging, as an older programmer might, a set of constants, variables, operations and expressions, all written in something resembling English, into a logical sequence, a KIBO programme arranges wooden blocks that carry stickers bearing symbols. These symbols tell a plastic robot what to do next."

Since my students - especially the females - did not have such toys or programs to develop their interest in engineering, they could discuss what made them interested in their field and at what age. They could brainstorm ways to develop this interest in young children.

What could be particularly challenging is having students read the descriptions of how each toy works, and what it is designed to do. This not only gives examples of process descriptions, but could also inspire students to think of toys they would design for children to hone S.T.E.M. skills.

For more material related to this topic, see my posts Girls who code (24 August 2014) and Inspiring tomorrow's engineers (18 May 2014).

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