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Update: I’m happy to announce that the problem that was preventing comments from posting to the blog has been fixed, so all posts are once again open for commenting. Again, I really apologize if you posted a comment in March or April that did not make it onto the blog. Please repost your comment now and I look forward to responding. ~Donna

Can girls learn STEM skills by playing house?

Have you noticed that there are very few games for girls that teach STEM skills?  This is a huge missed opportunity because STEM skills learned through informal play translate into STEM skills in the classroom and an interest in science, technology, engineering and math! Recently, I was very upset to learn that PicoCrickets – MIT Lab’s more feminine alternative to the very masculine Lego Mindstorms – was discontinued. While Lego Mindstorms teach robotics and computer programming with monsters, PicoCrickets taught the same skills by making a cake sing and a cat purr. We have research in our online Proven Practices Collection that shows girls love PicoCrickets and they are effective in teaching STEM skills.

So I was really excited to come across a new toy called Roominate that puts a new spin on playing house. Girls learn how to not only the build the house with custom parts they also learn how to wire it with circuits. It was developed by three young female engineers who put it on Kickstarter to raise funds for its launch: Instead of receiving $25,000 as hoped, they received $85,965. I’m so happy that others see the value of this game too!  If you’d like to read more about Roominate and see a video about them visit the Smithsonian blog.

Another new toy for girls that I read about recently is called “GoldieBlox”. GoldieBlox, developed by a female engineer from Stanford, is a construction toy and book series starring Goldie, a kid inventor who loves to build. As girls read along with the story, they use the construction set to learn the same kinds of building and problem solving skills that boys tend to learn with Legos and Erector sets. You can read more about Goldie Blox, and the Kickstarter campaign that’s funding it, in this article from the Atlantic.

These toys remind me of one of the SciGirls videos: Get Tech, which has a segment called “High Tech Fashion”. The SciGirls, a group of real middle school girls, teams up with fashion designer Diana Eng to create a high tech evening dress, using circuits of blinking LEDs and electroluminescent wire.

My prediction is that when we have as many games that teach STEM skills that appeal to girls as we do for boys, we will have as many girls as boys interested in STEM.

Do you know of games that appeal to girls that teach STEM skills? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about them.

Having more women involved in the auto industry is a life or death matter

Can you believe that in 2012 the majority of car crash test dummies are men?  This means that the crash test ratings you may have read from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are unreliable if you are a woman.  A 2010 study by the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics found that seat-belted female drivers in actual crashes had a 47% higher chance of serious injuries than belted male drivers. That percentage goes up to 71% for crashes resulting in moderate injuries. Only since 2011 has the federal government replaced some male dummies with female dummies for crash tests. However female dummies are still not tested in the driver’s seat in frontal crash tests, even though most fatalities are from frontal crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the reason for this is that men drive more and die in greater numbers than female drivers. Yet in 2010, women were 44.1% of primary car buyers.

Because women are smaller in height compared to men, they are closer to the dashboard and this is why it’s so important to have female dummies. Additionally, women’s bodies are different; they have weaker necks for example. First generation air bags from 1998 disproportionately injured those under 5’4”, predominantly women and children, because male dummies were used. Why in 2012 are women still being left out of the picture?

I believe it’s because women are not well represented in the auto industry. Only 2.8% of car dealerships are owned by women, they make up only 11.5% corporate officers in the Motor Vehicles and parts industry, and 12.4% on board of directors. In 2010 women made up only 13% of the automotive sales workforce and 1.4% of automotive technicians. I was not able to find the percentage of women in auto design nationally, however I would venture to guess it’s not high.

To hear more about women in the auto industry listen to a radio show I participated in on National Public Radio.

Personally I believe increasing the number of women in the auto industry is a life or death matter. What do you think?

New IWITTS Facebook Page

IWITTS LogoIWITTS is just a few weeks into the launch of our new Facebook page and if you think closing the gender gap for women and girls in technology is important please “Like” Us by going to the page and clicking on the thumbs up icon on  top.

We only post once a day and there are many invaluable nuggets of information that we are passing on such as an article on female bioengineering students turning an everyday salad spinner into an anemia diagnosis tool for use in rural and economically under-developed regions of the world.

We’ll have many practical examples that educators can use for both recruitment and retention so don’t miss out!  We have over 100 likes already and we are hoping you can put us at 1000 by the end of the year!  Like us now!

For a more personal/insider look at IWITTS, I also invite you to Friend Me on Facebook.

CalWomenTech Secrets to Recruiting & Retaining Women in STEM

Team members from CCSF and EVC CalWomenTech Sites receive WomenTech Hall of Fame Awards
Team members from CCSF and EVC CalWomenTech Sites receive WomenTech Hall of Fame Awards

This October, IWITTS held the third Project Partner Meeting of our NSF-funded CalWomenTech Project and two of the community colleges present were inducted into our WomenTech Hall of Fame!

Read on to find out how they achieved success …

Secrets to Recruitment Success — Computer Networking Program
The Computer Networking and Information Technology (CNIT) Program at City College of San Francisco went from a female enrollment baseline of 10.3% in 2007 to 36.1% in spring 2010.

Key strategies included:

  • Obtaining the buy-in of all CNIT instructors, counselors and career staff.
  • Putting up recruitment posters and tear-off flyers with female role models all over campus. A survey of enrolled female students showed these were the top two ways they learned about the program.
  • CCSF has a very large counseling staff with over 100 counselors. The Project key leaders made a presentation to all of the counselors at their monthly meeting, providing them with recruitment brochures and posters so they could assist with recruitment efforts. In fact, distribution of recruitment materials by counselors was written into CCSF’s annual strategic plan to ensure it has become a regular practice.
  • Learn more about CCSF in this case study.

Re-create CCSF’s success at your school with Ready-to-Use Recruitment Tools:

  • Our Outreach Kit based on the CalWomenTech Project, includes easy-to-customize recruitment materials.
  • Our Poster Sets feature female role-models working in seven different engineering or trades occupations.

Secrets to Retention Success – Automotive Technology Program
Evergreen Valley College of San Jose had a baseline retention rate for female students of 57.6% in 2008 that went to 100% for two nonconsecutive semesters. In the aggregate, the average female completion rate went to 88.3%, an increase of 30.7%. Male completion baseline was 61% – also low – and now the aggregate is 86.4%, an increase of 25.6%.

Key strategies included:

  • A change in culture from it’s okay if some students are “weeded out” to a more supportive environment where instructors focus their efforts on every student’s success.
  • Bringing female role models into the classroom to make presentations.
  • Teaching to female learning style as well as male.
  • Rewarding successful female completers with a “CalWomenTech Tool Scholarship” — an engraved professional wrench with a lifetime guarantee.
  • Visible support of female auto tech students in the classroom, where female and male students can view women in auto technology banners and posters in the classroom.
  • Learn more about EVC in this case study.

Here’s how you can achieve Evergreen’s success, too:

  • Attend our upcoming WomenTech training for educators in San Francisco to learn more about female learning style – sign up now for early-bird savings!

Need a Research-Based Blueprint for Recruiting Women?

This week I came across a well-organized and user-friendly resource that includes articles on women and gender and technology education — research that can help guide your efforts to recruit and retain women in your technology classrooms.

ATE Central is a freely available online portal and collection of materials and services that highlight the work of the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) projects and centers. These National Science Foundation-funded initiatives work with educators from two-year colleges to develop and implement ideas for improving the skills of technicians and the educators who teach them.

I included below a few studies that were new to me and might interest you, as well.

For more resources on recruiting and retaining women in technology classes, check out IWITTS Proven Practices Collection, which includes over 100 journal articles and proven practice case studies. Learn below how with our website redesign we’ve made this collection even easier for you to use.

Resources from ATE Central

Gender Differences in the Values of Minority High School Students that Affect Engineering Discipline Choice & Recommendations for Attracting Minorities to Environmental Engineering: Nine gender separated groups each attended the hour and a half session about environmental engineering and wastewater treatment. This paper details gender differences in the questions raised by students during the introduction to wastewater treatment session and suggests different ways to interest girls and boys in engineering.

Preparing Women and Minorities for the IT Workforce: The Role of Nontraditional Educational Pathways: This study examines the role of nontraditional educational pathways in preparing women and underrepresented minorities for the information technology (IT) workforce. It was sparked by the finding that the nation’s number one producer of bachelor’s degrees in information technology and computer science (IT/CS) was not a major research university, but instead was Strayer University, a for-profit institution with many campuses in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Not only was Strayer the top producer overall, but it also produced the largest number of women and African American graduates with baccalaureates in IT/CS.

Resources from IWITTS Proven Practices Collection

Our Proven Practices Collection provides educators a research-based blueprint for recruiting and retaining women and girls in the technology classroom. You’ll find hundreds of annotated journal articles and proven practice case studies.

The Collection is now tagged with keywords and organized by topic so you can quickly find what you need. Main topics include Recruitment and Retention, with ten retention sub-topics, including Learning Style and Spatial Reasoning.

We also added five new case studies from the CalWomenTech project which provide valuable insights into what individual programs did to work towards their goals of recruiting and retaining more women.

If you have any comments or questions about our IWITTS Proven Practices Collection, please leave your thoughts here.

New Careers for Mid-Life Women

By the time you read this, I will have turned the big “Five-O” on September 7th. 

As I mull over the new and great things I’d like to achieve in my fifties and beyond, I think about women who I look up to who just got going in their later years.  Cesária Évora, 70, one of my favorite singers, from Cape Verde, Africa, only launched her international career at age 47. Carmen Lamha, my co-Principal Investigator for the CalWomenTech Project, received her Master’s in Instructional Technology at age 49, and has talked of continuing on to get her PhD at 51.

I also think back to the 50 year-old woman — mother of five and on welfare — who attended a career development course I taught in the early 1980’s. A woman full of life, hope and courage, she decided to become a painter and became the first female to be admitted into the painter’s union apprenticeship program in Washington, DC.

For women, sometimes our greatest career accomplishments come at mid-life — after we’ve married or divorced, raised a family, or perhaps immigrated to the U.S.  And sometimes women embark on new careers only after they recognize the difficulty of making ends meet on the salary of the traditionally female jobs they’ve been working in for years.  

Older women often turn to community colleges to jumpstart their careers, so it’s important that educators send a message to these students in particular that all careers, including those in technology, are accessible to them.

For example, our Women in Construction Technology banner shows mid-life female role models.

Remember, everything that’s true about women in technology careers is multiplied three-fold for older women in the workplace: the need for help with building block skills, support, and encouragement.

In that vein, American Association of Community Colleges has developed a Plus 50 Initiative that “benchmarks and showcase the most current and innovative programs at community colleges to engage the 50+ learner”.  The website offers educators a variety of resources, including publications, webinars, practical tips, and more.

If you have any of your own resources or tips to share on mid-life women and technology careers, please feel free to post them here.  And for a humorous take on the challenges of a woman returning to the workforce after 30 years, this video is definitely worth a look.

The Power of Three Female Supreme Court Justices

I am in high spirits because on August 7, Elena Kagan was sworn in as our fourth female Supreme Court Justice – bringing the number of women currently sitting on the bench to three.

Elena Kagan, third sitting female Supreme Court Justice

Elena Kagan, third sitting female Supreme Court Justice

I was fortunate enough to meet the first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor in 1990, when I was doing a Congressional Fellowship on Women and Public Policy on Capitol Hill. I remembered I asked her how it was to be the only female on the Supreme Court and she told me that it was fine, though it would be nice to have another woman Justice. 

In 1994, I met the second female Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shortly after she was sworn in.  I told her that I knew Justice O’Connor was happy to have some female company on the court. Indeed in 2007 when Justice Ginsburg was the sole female, she told USA Today that she was “lonely” after O’Connor’s retirement. 

Why is three women sitting on the Supreme Court Bench significant?  For one thing, according to the US Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, “Supreme Court Justice” is no longer a non-traditional job for a woman (the threshold is 25%.) According to the sociological literature on “tokenism”, 25% is the tipping point for when a minority no longer is a minority.  And according to a study by Catalyst, three is the magic number in which women can effect change on corporate boards.

As much as I love women pioneers, it makes me even happier when it becomes “normal” to have many women in a career field.  Feeling “normal” encourages women to speak up, bring their unique perspectives into the workplace, and make a difference — regardless of whether that field is law, technology or the trades.  When women make up at least 25% of a field, or a board or, in this case, the Supreme Court, they are visible role models, they bring other women into the field and they serve as mentors for the next generation.

So now it is no longer unusual to have a woman Supreme Court Justice and, hopefully in my lifetime, we will even have a female Commander-in-Chief or two.  Let’s aim for at least one-third women in all fields, to make for a richer workplace and an enriched society.  To read more about my perspective on why it’s important to have women in all occupations, please feel free to read and share my new article, Why IWITTS?.

How do you like our new website iwitts.org?

Today we celebrated the launch of our new website iwitts.org. This is the culmination of 6 months of team work. Tell us what you think of our new website here in the comments section – we’d love your feedback. And if you find any bugs use the contact us form – and let Christine our office manager know. I’m very proud this was an all women effort in the spirit of IWITTS.

Computer Programming: Lessons that Appeal to Women and Girls

peanut-butter-computer-programmingHere’s a fun way to teach students the building blocks of computer programming skills.

Esther Frankel, a computer science instructor at Santa Barbara Community College who attended the WomenTech training I conducted last week, has generously allowed me to share her version of the lesson.  It’s called peanut butter and jelly and apparently there a number of web resources for this “PB&J” programming exercise.

Esther says, “Even though many resources identify this as an exercise for grades 4-8, I’ve used it very successfully at the high school and community college levels. In those situations, I personally don’t ‘follow’ the instructions; rather, I have students pair up or work in small groups and exchange their instructions.” She adds that she has also used exercises such as writing the instructions for going from one classroom to another (as this exercise introduces other programming “control structures”.)

You can find the lesson on The National Engineers Week Foundation website.

The Peanut Butter and Jelly exercise came up in the context of the WomenTech training module I led on how to appeal to female interests in the technology classroom. Of course, this exercise also appeals to many males who don’t start the class already understanding programming logic.

Another tool for engaging girls and women in computer programming is Alice — a resource that Esther has used successfully and that IWITTS has featured in past newsletters. The Alice programming language was designed to teach students programming. It is especially appealing to girls because programming is introduced as a “storytelling” paradigm.  Here is more information on Alice, as well as the site where you can download it.  Alice, which comes courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University, includes instructional materials, tutorials and textbooks.

I really appreciate how much I learn from the participants in our workshops, and how much they learn from each other. While conveying IWITTS’ program and knowledge base is a central focus of the WomenTech Training, equally important to the experience is having participants share strategies that have worked in their classrooms and schools.

Do you have any classroom lessons on computer programming with special appeal for women and girls?  Share them here!