Engaging Middle School Girls in Computational Electronic Design
This project will engage middle-school urban girls in learning sophisticated computer programming and electronics within supportive communities where the learning is embedded in meaningful projects. The project addresses the national need to engage more girls in computer science and engineering. It is a hybrid online and school-based/out-of-school (OST) program that integrates programming and electronics through interactive narratives. The challenges will require coding, designing, circuitry, or fabrication for the solutions using e-textiles, an activity that should prove naturally engaging for girls. E-textiles are fabrics that enable digital components, such as LEDs, speakers, sensors, mini-computers and other electronics to be embedded in them. The use of commercial E-textiles is rapidly growing, ranging from e-textiles that enable health monitoring, monitoring the positions of soldiers in action, or monitoring of pilot or driver fatigue. Program challenges, presented through the iRemix online social learning network (SLN), will support participants in learning a skill so they level up (i.e., master a level in a challenge) and eventually earn electronic badges. For example, to level up in electronics, girls will have to learn the fundamentals of both series and parallel circuits. By developing their skills across these areas, girls will be able to create e-textiles. Participants will work face-to-face and remotely with peers and mentors on projects that are supported by the SLN and embedded in a compelling storyline. As girls level-up, they will unlock access to more advanced tools and a richer set of e-textile fabrication materials. Participants will be recruited from Chicago-area charter schools.
The project will investigate the hypothesis that the girls involved within this girl-friendly context will develop a mastery of these areas at least equal to boys and develop the perception that women can succeed and be happy in STEM careers. The research-based rationale is that interest in STEM develops through exposure to STEM in engaging ways and interest can deepen from a casual interest to well-developed individual interest through supportive activities that take place across time and space. The project will use a mixed-methods approach to research that will gather and analyze data regarding baseline digital and technical fluency, student surveys (access, experience and future possibilities, online activities, analysis of social network participation, and profiles of student engagement.