#omgrobots: Robots Are Not Just for Boys!

Contributed by Dr. Lisa Milenkovic

If you close your eyes and think of a robotics competition, what would you imagine the team members would look like?  The stereotypical group of boys who are into playing online games would generally pop in most people’s minds.  Maybe there’ll be one girl in that group.  Then you think, no that’s not true, this is 2020 – we are more enlightened than that!  Well, sadly this is still true in most schools.  All you have to do is look at pictures of robotics competition and you’ll see that there is still a big gap in the ratio of boys to girls.  Even in a large district like Broward County Public Schools (Broward), we find that girl participation is not as robust as we’d like to see.

Broward County Public Schools is the sixth largest school district in the nation with greater than 270,000 K-12 students representing a very diverse population with 66% of students receiving free and reduced lunch. In STEM+Computer Science (CS) at Broward, we provide computer science and robotics programs, competitions, and coursework for K-12 students. Our main goal is to provide “STEM and computer science for every student, in every school.” 

We try to live up to the title of our No Limits grant proposal, “STEMpathy: STEM and Computer Science for Social Good,” in many ways. STEM is a problem-solving mindset and wherever possible we apply STEM skills to solve real problems in our community. We look for grants that provide programs for those who are in special schools, those that encourage participation of minority or under-represented population, and those that encourage social good.  No Limits fit this goal perfectly as our STEM+CS events encourage participation of all and especially reaching girls and underserved minorities in STEM. 

For this No Limits grant, we decided to focus on our VEX Robotics  competition series that is open to all from two girls standing next to a robotics courseelementary to high school.  We have a grant from the RECFoundation that provides robotics devices and teacher support to the schools.  Since this is our third year in this grant, we have more than 100 participating schools and can see some longitudinal pattern of participation through feeder patterns (elementary – middle – high school zones).  We still find that more girls participate in the elementary level, than middle and high school.  We hope to change this through our various competitions that start at the elementary level, the hope is that by exposing more girls at the lower level, they’ll continue at the middle and high school level, and this participation will lead to enrollment in higher level STEM and computer science coursework.  This is true for the VEX robotics competition, as well our other competitions, such as the SECME-STEM Olympiad which focuses on engineering challenges.

We are seeing some encouraging changes.  This year we have at least five teams that are comprised of just girls.  At the last competition, there was a team made up of girls who have been practicing for just six weeks.  They earned the judge’s Inspire award for their perseverance at their first competition!

There were three VEX robotics events that fell within the timeframe of the #GirlsHaveNoLimits outreach program. We showed the Ewy Rosqvist’s video to everyone who attended at the beginning of the competition to a large and varied audience of parent, students, teachers, school administrators and friends of these participants as well.  As teachers, A girl holding a robot and controllerwe generally teach or provide experiences to our students and we hope they will go home and share them with their family and friends.  As most of us know, sometimes they do, but most times they don’t.  For those with children of our own, how many times have we asked, “So, what did you do today?” and the child will answer with, “Nothing.”   Parents and children participating at the same time is an experience that we try to capitalize when we can.  We hope that it will encourage extended conversation with each other and others.

After showing the video, we gave away the toy cars to all children who were present.  The response to the video, and the cars, were very positive.  You can hear “yeah” and “girl power” from the audience when they find out Ewy Rosqvist won the race.  The most surprising thing that we found is that teachers and others wanted to know the link to the video so they can show it to others!  What we really like about this grant is that we felt the video made an impact, but the toy cars really enhanced the experience and gave the recipients something tangible to remember that #GirlsHaveNoLimits.

 

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Dr. Lisa Milenkovic is a STEM+Computer Science Curriculum Supervisor at Broward County Public Schools, the nation’s sixth largest district. Dr. Milenkovic is the District Director for the Code.org Regional Partnership for CS, the K-12 STEM Olympiad and other programs to engage students and teachers in STEM as the leader of the Broward Area STEM Ecosystem.

 

NGCP's partnership with Mercedes-Benz USA is tackling the issue of gender stereotypes and showing young girls they can aspire to be and do anything they desire. #GirlsHaveNoLimits. Via NGCP mini-grants, thousands of girls have been gifted a die-cast Matchbox replica of the Mercedes-Benz 220SE commemorating Ewy Rosqvist's historic 1962 Argentinian Grand Prix performance. Learn more about this initiative.