Despite efforts to raise awareness and turn the tide….girls and women are still significantly underrepresented in the sciences. Do we need more role models? More female accessible toys and science related products? Increased girl-only classes and programs? This article suggests those approaches, while well-intentioned, aren’t effectively addressing the problem. The typical interventions treat it as though it is a result of lack of interest…as if science as a field for women to pursue their learning, passion, and profession isn’t being “sold” in a feminine enough way. Worth a read…and perhaps ongoing conversation with the science-driven girls/women in your life.
“A researcher measured the effect of a handful of common interventions on students’ interest in physics: single-sex classes; having role models including women physics teachers, women guest speakers, and women who made contributions to the field; and discussing the problem of underrepresentation itself. Of these efforts, only the last one succeeded in making high-school women more interested in pursuing a career in the physical sciences…I’m still all for Legos featuring women scientists, engineering toys that cater to different learning styles, and tales of academics who don’t look like a narrow slice of America. What I object to is that these things are used to pitch science to girls as though they aren’t naturally inclined to care about science in the first place—or as if they have to be as knowledgeable as a two-time Nobel Prize winner in order to participate.”
I had the opportunity to visit NuVu Studio: The Innovation School last week in Cambridge, MA. NuVu is doing a number of remarkable things in partnership with Beaver Country Day School, which sends approximately 30 high school students each trimester to the NuVu campus to spend 8 weeks deeply engaged in the innovation & design thinking process.
Each session has a theme. The theme for this past winter session was “health”. Students engaged in 2-week-long projects that explored different problematic prompts. I had the opportunity to speak with Laurel and hear her share about an incredibly innovative product designed to promote health by servicing a need that people face when they are on the brink of death. Laurel and her group engaged in the complete design thinking process (as depicted in the above graphic) multiple times over to ultimately produce a functional and portable IV kit that attaches to a nalgene bottle and is able to filter, sterilize, and heat a water solution for combating hypothermia in backcountry or high altitude circumstances when emergency responders may be a long way off. I invite you to learn, through text and images, more about her group’s project by viewing their online portfolio.
While the product itself was captivating to me given my love of the outdoors and penchant for mountaineering, what was even more riveting was unique and transferable skill set these high school students had gained in a few short weeks (and those heavily interrupted by winter weather at that!). The NuVu students learned and practiced the skills of:
Asking thought provoking questions of each other and relevant experts.
Collaboratively approaching a problem, learning to leverage the strengths of each group member for the success of the team and the project.
Navigating obstacles, whether they be challenges in design, technology, group dynamics, or thought…persevering through the iterative process of design thinking to the resultant end of a workable prototype.
Increasing facility with a wide variety of different tools and skills that traditionally take full high school or college courses to master. Students did not enter the doors of NuVu with the ability to use 3D printers and its associated software, wield laser cutters, examine swaths of computer code for errors, complete wiring and electrical circuits, discuss medical diagnoses, and more. However they left with confidence and competence to use their resources to get the answers they need to continue moving the design thinking process forward.
Confidently advocating for their perspective and approach.
Communicating their thinking verbally, via a variety of multimedia tools, and in articulate text to convey process, possibilities, and product.
When given the time, the freedom, and the tools to focus on a single problem the ideas generated by these young minds were unbelievably impressive. These students used high-level skills in all curriculum areas (mathematics, programming, writing, reading, science, history, communications, etc.) throughout their work. It begs the question, how can we make this incredibly valuable, transformative, and applicable-to-the-future experience more broadly available in independent schools? What creativity is lost by requiring completion of a set course of study before students are presented with real-world dilemmas? What lives could be saved or bettered if children, who are often deep wells of empathy, were given meaningfully structured opportunities in their education to truly unleash the power of their intellect and creativity? What lessons does the NuVu Studio have for us that we can apply to ensure that our children are prepared for THEIR future…and not our past?
A parent of one of my students shared this video with me. Regardless of your familiarity with programming or your comfort with technology it is hard to deny that the shape of our society and culture is changing as a result of computers. How should schools change in response? What should they preserve apart from technological tools that is meaningful and valuable? These are important questions without clear answers. Though this video champions the importance of learning to code and program, it does highlight some important points:
Computers are prolific in our society and learning how to make them do things (programming & coding) is increasingly relevant.
Great and influential programmers (indeed great and influential ANYBODYs) are born from a simple spark (i.e. making a word appear on the screen as a result of code you wrote). Providing students with the opportunity to experience that spark (whether in programming or other skills) can set them on a path to a lifetime of engagement and fulfillment in a profession that truly captures their imagination.
Great inventions are borne of the freedom to imagine and the motivation and exposure to tools that allows progress between idea and product
There is an increasingly small gap between the words “creative” and “computer engineering/programming”. The former used to be reserved for more “right brain” qualities of fine or performing arts and the latter reserved for the more “left brain” qualities of maths and sciences. In the 21st century creativity is more and more associated with innovative mindset towards varied resources and tools and what a learner can DO with what is around them to effect meaningful change on their community.