Last year, our school Robotics club had 18 boys and 6 girls. This year, I thought I would try to even out that ratio by using a bit of subtle persuasion. I put a picture of the girls from last year’s Robotics team on the applications.
Apparently, I was a bit too subtle.
We just finished going through the applications for our Robotics Club. Once again, we have 6 girls and 18 boys. Even more disturbing, we have 14 kids on a waiting list. All boys.
I don’t want to exclude anyone from our club. But I would really like to know why it seems more attractive to the boys in our school than the girls.
Are girls genuinely not interested, or was my feeble attempt to attract more females to the club just washed out by the bombardment of subliminal messages kids get every day that Robotics and programming are more suitable for boys?
When I inherited the co-sponsorship of our Robotics club, I went to a summer training. When I got home, I was so pumped about the program that I pretty much steamrolled my daughter into applying for the club. I might have overdone my enthusiasm a bit because I then had to tell her that she might not get chosen in the random drawing.
“But you’re my mom,” she said.
“I have to be fair,” I replied.
Fortunately, her name was drawn, and we got to spend a year of programming together. Her perseverance in problem solving skyrocketed. Her feelings toward Robotics are now somewhat neutral (as opposed to disdainful). She might never be a programmer or an engineer, but at least she can decide that based on her interest level, not her gender.
To be honest, I don’t know if I would have pressured my daughter to try Robotics if I hadn’t become the sponsor by default. I never volunteered for the role in the first place because the lofty title of Robotics sponsor intimidated me. Then I realized that I teach Gifted and Talented students – and I’m not Gifted and Talented. So, why would I need to be a NASA engineer to teach Robotics?
In this article from Edweek, “Cracking the Code,” Michelle Davis, who writes about technology for “Education Week Digital Directions”, admits that she looked into a coding club (Coder Dojo) for her son, but didn’t even think that her daughter might be interested.
I’m not judging, because I have a feeling I honestly have no idea if my daughter would have tried Robotics if I hadn’t become a late convert myself.
There are organizations, like Girls Who Code, who are trying to reduce the deficit of females in these fields. But, we’re not going to start restricting our Robotics club to females.
What I would like to ask is for those of you who read this to consider if you have inadvertently implied that programming, engineering, or even building cool stuff with Legos is a “boy” thing. If you have a daughter, or a young female who looks up to you as a teacher or mentor in any capacity, think about suggesting that she learn programming on her own (here is a link to my Pinterest board on Programming for Kids) or try to get involved in a local group that offers it.
Let’s defeat this stereotype.