Research starting from the 1960s to present day has shown that undergrads who are majoring in engineering and physics still don’t have a basic understanding of circuitry. Yet, their instructors don’t address the problem; instead, they build more complex topics on top of it.
It starts in elementary school, where teachers are expected to use traditional toolkits, often consisting of a lightbulb, alligator clips, and a 9-volt battery, that don’t actually teach circuitry correctly. On top of that, the design of these kits has shown itself to be off-putting to kids — and especially to girls.
This is troubling, considering that men hold a disproportionately high share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering. And today, 84 percent of working professionals in science or engineering jobs in the U.S are white or Asian males (even though more women than men earn college degrees each year).
As STEM careers become integral to the future of work, we need to do all that we can to attract women to STEM, early and often. But how can we get more girls interested in circuitry earlier? How can we teach circuitry in ways that resonate better with both boys and girls?
Building Early Competency in Circuitry
The littleBits team is looking forward to unveiling new research from Dr. Kylie Peppler, Associate Professor, Informatics, at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at University of California, Irvine.
Dr. Peppler’s work shows that new circuitry kits in the classroom have been proven more effective for STEM learning in both boys and girls, and one interesting thing they have in common is that many of these kits were designed by women to be gender-inclusive.
From colors, to product structure, to other factors to be discussed in Dr. Peppler’s webinar, female designers — like littleBits’ Ayah Bdeir — seem to have cracked the code for creating more effective (and more inclusive) STEM tools.
littleBits, for example, brings gender-neutral design into our products and promotion in several ways:
- We are wary of introducing subtle social signals that discourage girls. To that end, we work hard on gender neutrality in our products, packaging, and promotion. Our circuit boards are white, our Bits are candy-colored, our invention ideas are designed to capture kids’ interests no matter where they lie.
- We know that robots and vehicles typically appeal to boys more than girls, so we have come up with ideas – such as high-tech Halloween gadgets and “bots” that draw — that appeal to both genders. We also use bright colors to make our circuits beautiful, which appeal to girls but don’t turn off boys.
- In our promotional work, we take care to include great inventions by young girls as well as boys.
Dr. Peppler will discuss how women approach the design process differently, and how this perspective — for classroom STEM tools, at least — may be the key to broadening the pipeline of women in STEM careers.