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The Girls in Robotics event at Soaring Heights PK-8 school in Erie, Colorado is a great way to get more female students interested and involved in STEM subjects.

By Jamie Nesbitt

Soaring Heights opened in 2018 with a shared community vision of creating an innovative and inclusive school.  We set out to foster learning opportunities that would leverage the latest technologies and integrate neuroscience concepts to bring students an educational experience focused on social growth, as well as academic excellence. The students’ enthusiasm and engagement in class activities were refreshing. Despite our best efforts, an unforeseen challenge was still looming.

Serving as the Media Specialist and Robotics Instructor, I have been able to work with a diverse group of students ranging from kindergarten through 8th grade. This vantage point brought into focus the steep decline of female students participating in STEM classes after the transition from elementary to middle school. At the elementary level, there was a nearly even split between boys and girls in the after-school robotics clubs. By the time students were reaching 7th and 8th grade, that number had fallen to less than 20%. Common responses heard from students were, “Those classes are for boys,” or, “None of my friends are in that class.”   

When I look at my two daughters, Kennedy (age 10) and Braelyn (age 9), I want to cultivate a future in which they see themselves as innovators, engineers, and scientists. Girls in Robotics was a direct response to this discrepancy and aimed to promote inclusion of female students in our STEM community. Since its inception, the number of girls signing up for robotics and computer science classes and clubs has dramatically increased. We are seeing fewer female students leave the programs and witness stronger relationships among the female students in the STEM programs.

A group of girls learning in a STEM classroom.

This year marked our first Girls in Robotics event since the pandemic.  The Soaring Heights community was very excited to partner with Sphero to bring a memorable experience to our students. Female engineers, project managers, and even the local Mayor, came out to support the event.  The day began with a networking breakfast and keynote speakers, Michelle Acaley and Alexis Bell of Sphero. They discussed their journeys through the world of STEM and highlighted female champions in engineering and computer science, like Admiral Grace Hopper, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. One of our 3rd grade students enthusiastically remarked, “My favorite part of the day was getting to meet real engineers… and they were WOMEN!” 

A girl learning STEM with a Sphero Bolt robot.

The day was filled with laughter, collaboration, and a lot of fun Sphero activities!  Participants rotated through stations that included a variety of robots. Girls completed a series of indi challenges, created a BOLT zoo, and even jousted with RVR+ and littleBits!  

A girl learning STEM programming an RVR+ robot.

“Classroom activities have so many rules. Robotics lets you make your own decisions. My mind is free!” remarked another 3rd grader at the end of the day.  The power of play is so remarkable! I find that the fewer constraints I give my students, the more they surprise me with their creations.

Two girls in a STEM class doing an activity with Sphero indi robots.

Girls in Robotics was open to students in 3rd–8th grades and consisted of mixed grade-level groups. Current female robotics students also attended as session mentors to meet the students and assist with the activities. One mentor from my robotics program, a 7th grade student, said, “I loved seeing the enthusiasm and excitement from the younger students. It was a lot of fun to be a helper!” While another student commented, “I loved working on teams!  It was cool to work with the big kids!” We are striving to create shared experiences for the girls in our community. 

The world of STEM is an incredible catalyst for learning and building strong relationships. Girls in Robotics is just one moment in the long road ahead for these incredible girls!

About the Author:

Jamie Nesbitt is a Sphero Hero and the Media Specialist at Soaring Heights PK-8 School in Erie, Colorado. Learn more about him here.


Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. 

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