DISCLAIMER: This post is based on my personal observations in my class over the past 2 years, it may appear as gender stereotyping- but it’s a reality (if you want stats, out of the 268 students I have had the past 2 years, these statements hold true for 95.6% of males and 85.3% of females- yea, I’m a math teacher).
LEGO Mindstorms EV3- it’s one of the best times of my day at school. As a kid I LOVED my Legos, I even still have a indent in my face from falling asleep in the toybox on them. I have been lucky enough to have these kits in my classroom, and I really have to thank my admin for supporting me in this. LEGO Mindstorms allow students to build robots then then program them to do specific tasks. I have found that while the color sorter and puppy are fun for the kids to build, they prefer the challenges of the driving base or Gyroboy.
This is what I have observed, and it’s not pretty. It does, in fact, support the current concerns about girls in science and math. We go through the basics about construction and following designs, and then students build the driving base. Boys (92.3%) are the first ones to complete the build, they tear through the plans and don’t ask questions for help. Girls (90.6%) will take their time, examine the picture, and ask clarifying questions on the construction of the robot. The boys have been averaging 90 minutes (a class period is 50) to construct the robot, girls are at 150. I won’t speculate why there is this difference here since I am not conducting a formal experiment.
The next phase in this is programming, and once again I have observed a drastically different approach to this. For any challenge I have found the girls (98.5%) to be more precise in their program than the boys (80.2%). Boys will approach the programming in much the same way as construction, they will whip through the challenges doing the bare minimum to get the robot to complete it (and this is rushing their work, not optimization). Girls tend to be perfectionists, they run a part until they get the robot to behave exactly as they want it to, consistently. They take more time in placing their robots on the challenge course to ensure a consistent start. Girls tend to get frustrated quicker- I have come to the assumption that is is because of two things:
- They want it to run perfectly
- They feel uncomfortable with the class overall
Girls complain about the class, and constantly ask me to do anything else, but I don’t give them that option. I support them, push them, and make a point to point out the efficiency of their programs whenever possible. Boys in class want to rush through challenges and get as many done as possible, quantity over quality. I flip that view on them, I demand quality. It shakes the boys up quite a bit, but they need it. I see great growth in the girl’s confidence, after they realize that I am not catering to the boys and their wild charge through the classwork and challenges- they begin to gain confidence in their own abilities.
We, as teachers, need to be purposeful in how we handle instruction, expectations and praise in our classrooms. We need to refocus our male students, make them slow down and be purposeful in what they do. Make them wait to answer, consider their strategies, be precise in their actions. We need to bring our females to the forefront of classes, support their thinking, provide positive experiences in class. They need to gain confidence in their voice in class, and need the opportunity to share ideas or answer questions first.
Robotics has reminded me about norm expectations, and reminded me to not be OK with them- hopefully this post will do the same with you.