“Art of Engineering for Girls” series to begin this Sunday in Ypsilanti

When I talked with science educator Cassie Byrd earlier this year as part of the Ypsi Immigration Interview project, we discussed the possibility, given her interest in teaching girls about science, and her experience at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, that she might get more involved locally with FLY Children’s Art Center. Well, I just recently learned that Cassie has done just that. She’s developed series of workshops for the FLY Creativity Lab, directed at 10 to 12 year-old girls… Following is our very brief conversation about what’s she’s planning.

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MARK: So I noticed that you were going to be teaching a series at FLY called Art of Engineering for Girls.

CASSIE: That’s right. I’ll be co-teaching (with FLY’s art teacher Allida Warn) a series of three workshops that explore the intersection of science, art, and engineering.

MARK: Three workshops over three days?

CASSIE: Yes, the three workshops will take place on three consecutive Sundays beginning this Sunday, November 1.

MARK: So, can you give us an example of the kind of stuff you’ll be doing?

CASSIE: The first week, we’ll be exploring the physics of motion. We’ll look at types of motion (linear and rotational, as examples), how simple machines (levers, gears, and pulleys as examples) can change the direction or magnitude of force of a particular motion, and then putting all of that science knowledge together to create art and engineer a toy called “a water bottle flywheel”. The second week of the workshop, we’ll explore materials and structures, investigating what gives a structure strength and stability. And, the last week, we put it all together in an engineering design challenge.

MARK: When we last talked, you mentioned how you like to work with girls between the ages of 10 and 12, as that’s a critical time in their educational development… Actually, I’ve got a quote from you here, from our earlier interview…

In my work, I try to focus on girls between the ages of 10 -12 — hopefully catching their interest before they self-select out of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Some key strategies for getting, and keeping, girls interested in STEM are:

INTRODUCE HER TO ROLE MODELS: If I asked you to describe the first image that pops into your mind when I say the word, “scientist”, what did you see? Many will describe the ubiquitous white male, with crazy hair, wearing a labcoat, probably blowing something up in a lab image. This stereotype belief holds true for girls too. Because of this, there is a disconnect between the descriptive stereotype that scientists must look like that crazy guy and how girls view themselves. So, we must introduce girls to many types of scientists with whom they can identify. “If she can see it, she can be it.”

GIVE HER OPPORTUNITIES TO ENGAGE IN STEM EXPERIENCES: Take advantage of girls’ interest in STEM from a young age – visit science centers and other informal learning environments, do activities at home that make the connection between STEM and everyday life (talk about the science or math of cooking while making dinner, explain a household or automotive repair to her, let her tinker with you – gaining hands-on experience with tools), or encourage her to sign up for a STEM related afterschool or summer program.

ENCOURAGE GROWTH MINDSET: Research out of Stanford University by Dr. Carol Dweck found that people could be described as having a fixed mindset (that their intelligence or talents were fixed) or a growth mindset (that their intelligence or talents can be developed through dedication and hard work). When we give girls opportunities to succeed and to fail, we create a space for them to learn from failure, which can help them develop a growth mindset. This piece gets at the heart of the “I’m not good at math” problem and paves the way for her to develop perseverance, which is critical for success in STEM fields.

Would I be right to assume that these three elements will be present in the curriculum you’ve put together for this series of workshops for 10, 11 and 12 year-old girls?

CASSIE: Absolutely. The workshop series is an opportunity for girls to explore the connections of physics phenomena to everyday toys and tools. Through exposure to the Engineering Design Process, the students will see that it is absolutely essential to learn from failure.

MARK: I like that FLY is evolving to look at creativity more broadly, incorporating science and technology along with art. I’m not an educator, but it seems to me there’s a huge opportunity when you leverage art… I mean, as much as I like STEM, I think that the A is important. It not only grounds it, but it provides a relatively easy point of entry for kids that might not otherwise gravitate toward science and technology.

CASSIE: Agreed. We’re seeing a movement in higher ed of new courses and programs that blend art and engineering (such as UM’s ArtsEngine). And, in the digital realm, we’re seeing art and engineering intersect to push the limits of graphical user interfaces and create new technologies (such as James Cameron’s 3D tech used to create the film “Avatar”).

MARK: How many kids are you hoping to get in the class, and how much does the series cost?

CASSIE: We’re hoping to have around 18 students in the series. The cost is $150, and there are scholarships available. Parents should send an email to FLY (info@flyartcenter.org) if they’re interested.

[The image at the top of the page was taken of my daughter at last year’s Science Olympiad. She’d just competed in the rocket competition when this was taken. It seemed appropriate for this post.]

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3 Comments

  1. Bravo
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Good work to all involved. If we’re ever going to put this world of ours back in order we need as many creative problem solvers as we can get. There’s a lot that needs fixing.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Girl scientists, one would imagine, are less likely to build bombs.

  3. Ashton
    Posted November 4, 2015 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Girls scientists are hot!

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