In 2006, CMU researches began thinking about how to use robot building as
a way of boosting technological fluency in middle school girls. They
hoped to improve the "dismally low number" of women in computer science
and engineering fields by offering a more motivating alternative to
traditional education. The result was Robot
Diaries, a series of workshops
where girls built robots (photos
of another workshop). A huge amount of feedback and analysis was
collected during the workshops, to learn what worked and what didn't. The
participants spent almost as much time keeping activity logs, being
interviewed, debriefed, surveyed, and observed as they did building
robots. The end result was a program and curriculum researchers believe
engages the girls, while at the same time changing the attitudes of
their parents, which tends to force girls into stereotypical roles. To
read more about how the programs worked, what they tried, and what
worked, check out the verbosely named paper, "Robot
Diaries Interim Project Report: Development of a Technology Program for
Middle School Girls" (PDF format). Like
to try it at your school? CMU has made the curriculum
for the one-day workshop available online. This research was
done by the CMU Robotic Institute's CREATE Lab.
Middle school is the perfect target age for introducing girls to robotics. It makes it more likely for them to sign up for classes like computer science and shop (or engineering for schools that have it) in high school, which they might not have expected and considered as things that they would like.
I myself was first introduced to programming robots through a program for middle school girls called FIST (Females In Science and Technology) sponsored by the Math, Science, and Computer Science Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. I participated in a hands-on workshop to program Fisher-Technik robots. I ended up applying to Blair's magnet program and went there for high school where programming and engineering were both part of the required curriculum.
Makes me want to start a program to focus on boys to get them off video games, away from the TV, and out of ballet. Grab a welding mask and soldering iron and follow me!
All I know is boys and girls are having a lot more fun in school than I
ever had. I never got to work on real robots at all. My early robot
exposure didn't come from school but in the form of science fiction
books by the likes of Asimov and other classic SF authors.
I once got into trouble for hiding out in an empty class room and
reading Ray Bradbury's R is for Rocket when I was supposed to be
attending a pep rally. I apparently didn't understand how important
"school spirit" is! :)