In my experience, the biggest problem with engaging girls in STEM is that they don't discover how great it is at a young age. This season, my FTC team's main goal is to show young girls how cool robots are - and get them excited about FIRST. During the summer, we reached out to our local Girl Scout Troops and asked them if they would be interested in attending a robotics workshop - and we got very positive feedback. Immediately, we started developing a schedule and even went through the process of creating a badge for them. And today during the workshop, we saw the power that just 4 hours of robots can have.
We opened the workshop with a little background about FIRST, what our team does, and more information about the FIRST LEGO League program. When we played videos of our team in competition, and even the LEGO robots completing tasks from the Nature's Fury board, we could see their eyes light up - "Wait..you made your robot HANG!?"
As soon as they got their robots, the excitement grew. They learned how to program and immediately began experimenting and trying to figure out the next step before we taught them how to do it. The energy in the room was contagious, with 30 girls running back and forth from their computers to test their next idea. Once they got started, it was nearly impossible to bring them all back together. It was easy to see the friendships forming between the troops as the girls helped other groups. Even when they started building the arm for the bot and it was obvious that some of them hadn't build with LEGOs before, the energy didn't die down. Other girls stepped up to help their partners and showed amazing teamwork to get all the arms built.
Small teamwork activities were sprinkled throughout the day to break up building and programming. Most of the girls said their favorite activity was building a house out of spaghetti and marshmallows because it helped them understand they best way to build things. We talked about how triangles are the strongest shape, and cross bracing helps to support frames.
All of the adult leaders gave us glowing feedback, and asked us if we would be interested in a follow-up workshop. Two of the most powerful comments we got from the girls was that the workshop made her "think about robots in a whole different way" and that "it made me think that engineering and science plays a big part in the world." Our goal was to show elementary school girls that the world of STEM is open to them whenever they want to step into it. Maybe it was only 4 hours with robots, but sometimes 4 hours is all it takes.
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