Creating cultures and spaces for girls to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at an early age is an opportunity to increase the number of women in STEM fields and to diversify STEM learning environments.
Linda Werner, an Adjunct Professor at the University of California, whose research focuses on how to retain female students in engineering and computer science majors, provides insight into a variety of ways to foster inviting and collaborative learning spaces for all, which include role-modeling, access to materials, welcoming learning environments, and positive reinforcement from mentors and families.
There is a rise of communities and products that are helping to create these types of spaces for girls to explore technology. Girls Who Code and Made With Code are two exemplary organizations aiming to educate and inspire girls to become engineers and computer scientists. However, for many, coding is seen as intimidating and not an entry point to explore technology in a low barrier and comfortable setting.
There are many DIY tech kits and open source hardware companies that aim to provide this lower barrier experience to making creatively with technology including Adafruit, Sparkfun, and LittleBits. Many of these kits still require coding or are pure plug and play.
Although these organizations and companies are either empowering girls or technology novices, there needs to be more products that incorporate both. Joselyn McDonald, blink blink’s Chief Technology Officer, explains further:
“There are a few amazing communities and products that are either designed to educate girls to become engineers and coders or provide an entry point to creating with technology; however, the field is lacking an entry point product designed for girls to explore making with technology before coding.”
blink blink, featured in Getting Smart’s 10 EdTech Impact Opportunities and EdTech 10: The Big Easy & Beyond for promoting creativity and innovation, is a company designing creative circuit kits that provide all the necessary materials to engineer arts, crafts, and fashion projects. The kits are embedded with circuits and simple electronics, specifically designing their kits with empathy for girls, ages 8-18.
Over the past 18 months, blink blink co-founders, Joselyn McDonald and Nicole Messier, have hosted workshops in middle and high schools and after school programs where girls created sculptures embedded with circuits, paintings alight with LEDs, and fashion technology. After hosting workshops regularly, Joselyn and Nicole aimed to get this experience in front of as many girls as possible by designing a direct-to-consumer creative circuit kit, tutorial booklets, and a website with projects and support for the girls.
They began co-designing their first creative circuit kit, the blink blink Possibilities Kit, and the corresponding tutorials and website with young girls to ensure the circuit materials, the aesthetic, and the language were inviting and accessible. The curriculum for the blink blink Possibilities Kit aims to provide an introduction to basic circuit building and theory, as well as design thinking, and was designed based on three guiding principles and philosophies:
Learning Through Making & Play
blink blink believes that sustained learning happens when learners are provided with a platform that allows them to explore personal ideas and creative expression. This provides blink blink users with the agency to further investigate their constructions and ideas.
Encouraging girls to work with friends and family throughout the tutorial to complete projects as well as troubleshoot and solve problems collaboratively builds the users collaboration skills and increases the users’ ability to learn. Collaborative learning fosters a friendly and non-threatening STEM-oriented community where users can share insights, ideas, and problems.
Support Different Learning Styles
Their building creative circuit booklet and the online tutorial content supports varied learning styles by providing users not only with text, but also videos, GIFs and visual diagrams. The projects are also open-ended in ways that allow the user to explore making the projects they want to make, while learning core technology and engineering concepts.
This past fall, blink blink participated in 4.0 School’s Launch program. As part of Launch’s 10th cohort, they had the opportunity to iterate and test blink blink alongside other next gen entrepreneurs. During their time at 4.0 Schools, blink blink launched their site and sold their first creative circuit kits for the holidays. Their gearing up for a second run of kits with a Kickstarter campaign in mid-May.
Whether girls want to become technologist and engineers is truly up to them, but providing girls with opportunities to make these choices is necessary. With creative circuit kits as well as a culture featuring female STEM role models, blink blink’s mission is to empower girls through positive early interactions with technology and engineering concepts in playful, comfortable, and creative settings.
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