This is 'Iolani School

This is 'Iolani School

Monday, August 17, 2015

Three Observations About Girls and Boys in a Summer School Makerspace Class

            I need to say at the start, this isn't a scientific study or a psychological report on the difference between girls and boys. Rather, one teacher's observations of his students in a very specific circumstance. I'm not making any judgments so feel free to agree, disagree or add your comments.

            Educators read articles and books about getting more girls involved in S.T.E.M. This summer we had 20 girls and 16 boys in our "Design It-Make It" sessions. I ran 3 sessions of summer school in our Lower School FabLab at 'Iolani. Each class covered the same topics with the same instruction; the difference was the length of sessions, assigned projects and the gender of the students.          
            The session breakdown went like this:
                      Session 1) Six weeks, Monday thru Friday, 12:30-3:30, 6 boys/6 girls
                      Session 2) One week, Monday thru Friday, 8:30-2:30 (1/2 hr. lunch), 14 girls
                      Session 3) One week, Monday thru Friday, 8:30-2:30 (1/2 hr. lunch) 10 boys

            During all the sessions, I assigned intro projects (like making a box on the laser cutter) to get them familiar with the software and hardware. However, because we had more time in Session 1, I also assigned more advanced projects like designing and creating a "Wa'a" which is Hawaiian for a voyaging canoe. In Sessions 2 & 3, I showed the students examples of more advanced items, but left it up to them as to what project they wanted to make.

            So is there a difference between the genders? Looking back on the summer, here's what I noticed:

1: Girls and Boys - Boys and Girls: No Matter How You Say It, They Are Still Kids.
            My students ranged from entering 3rd grade to entering 6th grade. Some of them were 'Iolani students and some came from other schools (both public and private). We even had a couple of kids from Japan and one from California.
            At times they were all laser focused on their projects yet at other times all they could think about was lunch or getting plugged into MineCraft or some other game. Some days they had so many ideas, that we didn't have time to finish them that day. Other days it seemed like they had no original ideas at all.

2: The Girls Were More Athletic.

            During sessions 2 & 3, we had a half hour lunch break. Both the boys and girls had either phones or tablets and while they ate, they played their game of choice.  The difference was that when I would announce that we had about 10 minutes left, the majority of the girls put down their electronics and ran to the playground structure to climb, swing, slide, etc. I think only three boys at the most went to play during the week.
            Did this affect their ability to focus in the afternoon? Reflecting back at the two sessions, it seems like the girls did make more projects after lunch. Next summer I am going to have to keep some stats.

3: Boys Like Electronics, Girls Like the Laser and They Both Like Plastic and Vinyl.
            Over the 8 weeks, it seemed like there were a couple of favorites for each group. When given "Free Making Time" the boys tended to be drawn to Scratch and littleBits. The girls kept the laser cutter running as they made boxes, signs, presents and various other things made out of wood.
            The 3D printers and the vinyl cutter were busy all day with both groups. The girls liked 3D printing name tags and various trinkets. The boys got into designing and printing castles...some were very complex. Both groups also liked making "stickers" on the vinyl cutter.

            So what does this mean? Honestly, I don't have a clue. I know that some of the boys had to be refocused from time to time because they would be "playing" Scratch games rather than making games...but then so did a couple of girls.  A few of the girls were not risk-takers...making the same type of thing over and over (boxes and signs were popular)...and yes, so were some of the guys. Was one group better than the other? Will more girls go into S.T.E.M. jobs or will more boys? Of the 'Iolani kids that took this class, how many will be coming to the Lab during recess time? How many students will think about "making" when it comes to doing a project for their core classes? I don't know the answers.

          This I do know: All 38 students were makers during their time in the Lab. They all seemed to have fun and walked away from the class with the knowledge of how to use the equipment in the Lab. Each student gravitated to the activities that were interesting to them and spent most of their "free time" creating at that station. Lastly, both girls and boys were exposed to the possibilities of S.T.E.M. options in the Lab.

           Only time will tell what will happen next.

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