Fairfax school aims to stoke girls’ interest in STEAM
Judging by enrollment, White Hill Middle School’s engineering class is quite popular. But the teachers, Nate MacDonald and Julia Marrero, were seeing an imbalance of students that wasn’t sitting well with them.
“We have two girls in our engineering class, out of 70,” MacDonald said. “We decided that needed to change.”
Recognizing that girls tend to lose interest in math and science before reaching teenhood, MacDonald and Marrero decided they wanted to change that. So on Wednesday night they held a “Girls Ignite” event at the Fairfax school. Fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade girls from throughout the Ross Valley School District were invited for a two-hour summit to get them interested in the STEAM subjects — science, technology, engineering, art through digital creation, and math.
About 150 girls showed up, representing nearly half of the district’s female students in those three grade levels.
“It’s exciting to have all this girl power in one room,” Marrero told the group.
To kick off the session, the girls split into five groups for presentations from women who work in the STEAM professions, ranging from software engineers to a blacksmith.
In the second hour, the girls were put to work.
Each one was asked to assemble her own wearable art. On this night, the goal was to make a broach that looks like a flower — and lights up.
Once the felt pieces were layered, the LED light — about half the size of a typical Christmas tree light bulb — was placed in the middle of the flower. From there, each girl had to figure out to illuminate the bulb, by fastening a coin cell battery to the back of the broach and making sure it was properly connected to the bulb’s two wires.
“To understand how to light up their LED light, they have to understand the slightest bit about circuitry,” Marrero said.
While the goal of the evening was to stimulate interest in the STEAM subjects, the activities were strategically geared toward girls, Marrero said. Hence, creating a wearable flower.
The approach appeared to work. The girls appeared to be fully engaged, intent on accomplishing the task and figuring how to make their pieces light up.
“It’s really fun,” said Lola Palladini, a White Hill sixth-grader. “I really like to make all sorts of things and learn how they work.”
MacDonald said he hopes the evening will get more girls interested in taking STEAM-related classes, and eventually pursue related professions. He said there is a real-world benefit to having women in the STEAM professions.
“Girls have a different perspective on solving problems,” MacDonald said. “They have a great ability of working together, and they want to solve the world’s problems.
“We certainly need as many angles and solutions with the challenges we have.”
If the evening accomplishes what MacDonald and Marrero intended it to, many of the girls who attended will end up going the route of White Hill eighth-grader Maya Krause, one of those two girls in the school’s engineering class.
Krause said she has had a lot fun building robots, creating a video game and designing a motorized metal claw that can pick up objects. And in her free time, she’s learning how to design web pages, with the thought that she may one day want to do that for a career.
“I like the building. I really like the programming,” Krause said. “I think it’s really exciting.”