Edited: in August 2015
My two girls have a science lab near Silicon Valley and have recently secured funding.
OK – the ‘lab’ is actually our garage - outfitted with beakers, motors, robots, circuit boards, and some aging scientific instruments - but when you are 5 and 7 years old, your imagination (and a goofy dad) can transform the mundane into the engaging - and your funding can take the form of mandarin oranges.
Kids love science. Girls love science. Sadly, statistics on women pursuing STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are very disappointing – for example, only 9% of US Physicists are women. Girls face multiple headwinds with STEM – and many potentially exceptional women scientists never realize their full potential. We can do better!
Granted, I’m not sure if my girls will even want to be scientists, engineers, or mathematicians – but I am absolutely certain if it’s a path they choose – they will have a solid academic foundation and the confidence to pursue STEM. This isn't tiger-father parenting, but rather a journey of fun and discovery – with a healthy serving of mess-making and noise.
If you have kids and are keen on ‘home grown STEM’ – a few ideas on the list below may be of interest - for girls and boys of all ages!
- Create a space – a “lab” or “workshop” - just for this stuff. Make labels. Add paint. Let the kids make the space their own.
- Build a robot. No matter what size or type. (Inside out cereal boxes are a great start). Give her a name and a story. Below: #electionbot
- Explore “Oobleck” – a non-Newtonian fluid that makes a great mess. Consider hacking an old stereo system or subwoofer to agitate the mixture.
- Jump on Craigslist and find something with a battery and a motor. Bring it home and make it your own. Buy a helmet then try doubling the voltage. Add stickers.
- Diet Coke and Mentos; Rail gun; fresnel solar cooker. Discuss.
- Consider building an actual ‘angry birds’ contraption.
- Buy an Arduino, Raspberry Pi or Little Bits module online. If you don't know what these are, don't worry - you will figure it out with your kids!
- Carefully explore risk. Talk about safety. Introduce your kids to the concept of ‘test pilots’ – we like Evel Knievel, Chuck Yeager and Amelia Earhart. Buy eye protection – then blow stuff up! (and be careful!)
- Buy some quality vintage microscopes on eBay and slides (prepared and blanks) on Amazon. Spit, scrape and yank samples and look at them under the microscopic. Plants and blood look pretty cool.
- Play tricks with computers and code. We leveraged this young girl’s method to learn about SSH and how to control other computers in the house, and make them talk to us. It's now in our bag of tricks. (There are plenty of examples of young women showing science on YouTube - where possible, seek out these 'girl power' examples)
- Follow your kids’ passions. If they love Harry Potter – you have just found a beautiful data set. Our oldest built a simple force directed graph showing key HP characters
- Break things. Make mistakes! Try together, test together and sometimes fail together. Build the confidence to explore!
Anyway - the girls can pound nails, wire up circuits, solder, code, and paint awesome sunflowers onto robots. I’m not sure if these skills and experiences are enough to counteract the gender headwinds for STEM – or even if my girls will care in 5 years – but for now we are advancing one hack at a time…
…and man is it fun!
Happy hacking :)