1. Allison Master
  2. http://staff.washington.edu/almaster/cv.html
  3. Research Scientist
  4. Empowering Young Girls in STEM
  5. http://ilabs.washington.edu
  6. University of Washington
  1. Sapna Cheryan
  2. Empowering Young Girls in STEM
  3. http://ilabs.washington.edu
  4. University of Washington
  1. Andrew Meltzoff
  2. http://ilabs.washington.edu/institute-faculty/bio/i-labs-andrew-n-meltzoff-phd
  3. Professor
  4. Empowering Young Girls in STEM
  5. http://ilabs.washington.edu
  6. Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington
  1. Joy Mendoza
  2. Research Assistant
  3. Empowering Young Girls in STEM
  4. http://ilabs.washington.edu
  5. University of Washington
  1. Adriana Moscatelli
  2. Founder
  3. Empowering Young Girls in STEM
  4. http://ilabs.washington.edu
  5. Play Works Studio
Facilitators’
Choice
Public Discussion
  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 13, 2018 | 06:14 p.m.

    Thanks for taking the time to watch our video! We’re looking forward to the discussion. We are especially interested in your thoughts on these questions:

    1) What are some effective ways you’ve seen to encourage young girls to develop an interest in computer science and programming?

    2) What do you think are the main barriers that we need to overcome to help more children have access to STEM opportunities like these?

    3) Do you have suggestions for important next steps for our research?

  • Icon for: Levi Patrick

    Levi Patrick

    Facilitator
    May 16, 2018 | 12:18 a.m.

    Really wonderful presentation, Allison! 

    1. My experience is really in math, but I think the lessons hold true: learning that is authentic and gives ownership to the child, can be empowering, encouraging, and enriching. That's one thing that is particularly appealing about CS/programming, the ownership and authenticity is *almost* a given. We have much work to do to re-teach math educators (and redesign math textbooks) to make it as common in mathematics. 
    2. The first thing that comes to mind is a recent site I found called LetToysBeToys.org.uk whose mission follows: "Let Toys Be Toys campaign is asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys." I truly believe that advocacy work needs to happen from retailers, to toy makers, to advertisers, to families, preschools/daycares, and our entire community. Is that too much to ask? :)
    3. I've often wondered what are the particular aspects of teaching and learning, not exclusively in STEM subjects, that cause a student to identify less with a discipline. In other words, what adult actions inhibit students' views of themselves as a mathematician, scientist, historian, author, storyteller, etc.? I think you've identified one key adult action here: gender-determined preferential access.

    Keep up the great work! I have a little girl on the way and have spent a lot of time talking with our family about gendered toys and such. Probably too much, actually! Like all parents, we want her to have access to the full breadth of her possible futures and I don't want my toy-buying decisions to be a negative factor for her in any way. 

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 02:38 p.m.

    Hi Levi,

    Thanks for your comments!

    I appreciate the Let Toys Be Toys resource as well. When I gave talks about this research project, I showed what happens when you search on Amazon for "robot" within the categories of "Boys' Toys" and "Girls' Toys." There are more than 10 times as many results for Boys' Toys compared to Girls' Toys. But there has been progress from some companies (like Target) that no longer categorize toys by gender, and there are some great recent gender-neutral robot toys for children. We bought the Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar for our own preschool-aged daughter.

    The development of identification is a fascinating question! We're about to start a large longitudinal project with elementary and middle school students in computer science classes, and we're very interested to see how their identification with computer science changes over time. We think sense of belonging may play an important role, especially for girls in STEM. It's hard to decide that me = STEM when you don't feel that people like you belong in STEM.

    -Allison

  • Icon for: Maryo Yeager

    Maryo Yeager

    May 14, 2018 | 08:51 a.m.

    Activities that include girls as capable of learning how to program give idea I can do this”   Using specific scientific language in learning activities gives girls information that is exciting and leads to child view of Self as engaging in science. When girls play and say “ I am doing an experiment “ when playing in mud they are building a positive identifications with themselves and those activities   

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 12:00 p.m.

    Yes! We agree that it's so important for girls to believe they can do this and to identify themselves with science. We hope that starting early means that these experiences can add up over time, so that children build strong positive feelings about STEM.

  • Icon for: Jeanne Century

    Jeanne Century

    Facilitator
    May 14, 2018 | 11:33 a.m.

    Hi Allison - 

    What fun watching the kids engage with the robots in your study. I'm curious about how you identified your sample? I was also wondering if all of the children in your study were able to complete the programming task you gave them and if not, were there differences between the children who were and were not successful at completing the programming task?

    Great work - bringing awareness to others about the importance of starting young!

    Jeanne

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 12:21 p.m.

    Hi Jeanne,

    Our sample was children in the Seattle area whose parents had signed them up to participate in research studies. So, this might be a group of children who had more familiarity with technology than average. We think it's very interesting that we still saw the typical gender difference in our control groups (with boys reporting more interest and confidence than girls), but that gap was much smaller in our robot group. 

    We built into our research protocol a system of helping children who were having trouble programming, so that all children were ultimately able to succeed. We did keep track of how much help each child needed on each path. Overall, children programmed the path without assistance on 58% of paths, needed a little help with 21% of paths, and needed a lot of help with 20% of paths. There were no gender differences in how much help children needed. We also scored the number of “cycles to success,” the number of programs that children created and tested before successfully completing the path. Children succeeded on their first or second program for 64% of the paths. The children who needed more help programming did report lower confidence with robots, but enjoyed the robots just as much as the children who needed less help.

    Thanks for your feedback!

    Allison

  • Icon for: Jeanne Century

    Jeanne Century

    Facilitator
    May 15, 2018 | 08:37 a.m.

    Very interesting, Allison. As I was reading, I had a question that you answered at the end- about relationships between children who struggled more and their outcomes. I often hear people talk about "productive struggle" in learning and am very curious about it. I don't study it myself so I don't know much about exactly what that means or how people study it, but that's why I was wondering - does trying harder yield more confidence upon success or less? Of course, circumstances are always different. 

    I'd be curious to know what happens in a duplicate study where you have a less selective group of kids. I don't doubt the gender gap will remain, but just curious about differences in confidence gains. We have done a study in Broward County Public Schools, looking at relationships between childrens' participation in integrated units that include CS and although we didn't see differences between treatment and control, we did see persistent gaps. 

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2018 | 11:07 a.m.

    Thanks for these interesting questions! "Productive struggle" sounds like a complex issue. Carol Dweck was my PhD advisor, so my first thought is that how children interpret struggle may depend on their mindsets. Children who have a growth mindset (and believe ability can improve) may be more likely to interpret struggle productively and become more confident. Children who have a fixed mindset (and believe ability is fixed) may become more frustrated by struggle and challenges, and become less confident. We're planning to incorporate mindsets into our future research on computer science education, so we may be able to give a more empirical answer in a few years!

    Your second point is such a fundamental concern when we talk about any kind of motivation/achievement gap. Who benefits from educational interventions, and how much do they benefit? Is there a Matthew effect, where the already-successful become even more successful than others? How can we maximize benefits for the students who need the intervention the most without singling them out or stigmatizing them? In some of our other research on stereotypes about computer science, we've found that broadening the image of who belongs in computer science can boost girls' interest without decreasing boys' interest, which is encouraging.

  • Small default profile

    Linda Kekelis

    Researcher
    May 14, 2018 | 11:38 a.m.

    This is such important research and makes the case that it’s never too early to start encouraging girls in STEM, especially computer science. It is important to get this message and research out to parents. In my interactions with parents I have learned that they often unknowingly don’t support girls’ interest in technology. For instance, when making choices about summer programs I’ve had parents share that it didn’t occur to them that their daughters might be interested in a robotics or computer science program or that their daughters hadn’t asked to attend one of these programs. when I have discussed why they might to rethink their choices, I have found parents very receptive and eager to rethink what they think their daughters are interested in and how they might expand their daughters' opportunities. I have also heard from some mothers that when questions come up about technology they defer to their husbands, sending a message that may influence their daughters’ confidence. Mother-daughter programs in computer science and Making can build the confidence and skills of mothers and daughters. I encourage all of us to look for opportunities to share research along with strategies and resources so that parents can support their daughters in computer science.

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 12:36 p.m.

    Hi Linda,

    Great suggestions! Yes, I agree that parents often don't even think about creating these opportunities for their children. It's also important to counteract the gender-STEM stereotypes, which can push girls away from STEM.

    We've tried to reach out to families to increase awareness of this issue; here's an op-ed we wrote for the LA Times: "The gender gap in tech isn't set in stone"

    Our research institute also has a wonderful Outreach division that works to share our research with families, educators, and policy makers. They've created a nice series of online modules, one of which is about early STEM learning.

    We also think that integrating these opportunities into K-12 curricula for all children would be helpful. We're currently partnering with schools in Rhode Island (which has an initiative called CS4RI to put computer science in all K-12 schools) to see how computer science experiences in school affect students' interest over time.

    -Allison

  • May 15, 2018 | 12:42 p.m.

    What are your thoughts on how to deal with peer group pressure? For example, I recently had a parent share with me their experience with their pre-teen daughter. Their daughter goes to a school with many professional female scientist parents, female science teachers, and that generally places importance on representation of diversity in science. However, the group of girls that this child hangs out with does not value the vision of the female scientist and in fact, this she has specifically admitted to her parent that she regularly pretends to be bad at math or dislike math to better fit in with her peer group, despite admitting to her parent that she actually really likes math. What recommendation would you have for a parent dealing with this issue?

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2018 | 01:16 p.m.

    Hi Anna,

    This is a tough and important question! Sapna Cheryan's lab has been looking at how social pressures can push girls away from STEM. She's found that college-aged women express more interest in computer science when you ask them privately than when you ask them publicly, but that's not the case for men. She had two ideas for how to deal with this issue; I'm not sure whether she has the results yet.

    Her first idea was to give students private opportunities to explore their interests (away from peers). That might work for the parent you met (for example, the parents could send the daughter to STEM summer camp, away from that peer group).

    Sapna's second idea was to work to change the stereotypes that create the pressure in the first place. Changing cultural stereotypes isn't something that can happen easily or overnight, but finding a friend or role model who does value STEM for their daughter could help those parents. 

    -Allison

  • May 15, 2018 | 01:30 p.m.

    Thanks for your response! Those are great ideas. Another thought I had that I think lies somewhere in-between those two ideas is to engage the whole peer group in a stereotype intervention. So invite the child's group to your home for a movie night and ask them to pick a movie with a strong female scientist protagonist. Or to sit down and talk to them about their favorite female scientists and if they can't come up with any, ask them why they think that might be the case. My guess is that interventions of that kind will probably vary a lot in effectiveness depending on the peer group values/beliefs/organization, but it would be interesting to test whether in-person interventions of that kind have any effect on pre-teens/teenagers at the group-level.

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2018 | 01:45 p.m.

    Yes! And I think your suggestion includes an element that's critical for that kind of intervention--change has to come from the peer group themselves (supporting their autonomy and sense of fairness), not from an adult telling them what to think about STEM. There's a great study that convinced adolescents to make healthier eating choices by framing healthy eating as taking a stand against the food industry's efforts to manipulate children. Your conversation idea is similar--if they understand how society has created unfair structural barriers to women's participation in STEM, they might become more supportive of women in STEM.

  • Icon for: Merle Froschl

    Merle Froschl

    Director, Educational Equity
    May 15, 2018 | 03:53 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing your research. Unfortunately, from an early age, girls are taught that math success is about an innate ability that they lack and that being feminine and being good at math are mutually exclusive. It is important to  provide opportunities to counteract those messages both in school and at home. Girls need to believe that they "belong" in math. Carol Dweck's research on a growth mindset shows the power in believing that you can improve.

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 02:40 p.m.

    Hi Merle,

    We agree completely! Carol Dweck was my PhD advisor, and one of the next steps for our research is to see how teaching growth mindsets can help reduce the negative effects of stereotypes about STEM, and promote girls' sense of belonging.

    Thanks for your comments!

    -Allison

  • Icon for: Ashley Braun

    Ashley Braun

    Digital and family learning librarian
    May 15, 2018 | 09:25 p.m.

    I really enjoyed learning about your important work in understanding how young girls approach STEM activities. The conversation about social pressure and the suggestion to have a stereotype intervention with the group of students was particularly fascinating to follow. The families of young girls have such a large role to play in upholding or dismantling these gendered notions and I can see that having opportunities for young girls to engage in STEM activities with a trusted female family member is very powerful. I see that you do a great deal of outreach with families. Do you ever facilitate STEM activities or workshops with families as part of that work? Thank you for sharing your project! 

     

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 02:25 p.m.

    Hi Ashley,

    Thanks for your comments! Yes, the Outreach division at our research institute has done STEM workshops with parents in the past, and they are currently working to get a grant that would allow us to do this in a much more systematic way. 

    Our institute also has free online modules about child development that include tips and activities for parents, including one on Early STEM Learning.

    -Allison

  • May 16, 2018 | 08:11 p.m.

    I really like your video on programming for young girls, and am happy to see that early exposure has such a positive effect on their attitudes towards STEM. Have you given any thought to how those experiences can be woven into the grade school curriculum?

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2018 | 12:39 p.m.

    Hi Alexander,

    We think that it is important to build CS into the elementary school curriculum, so that it becomes something that all children do, not just something "for boys." We're currently partnering with schools in Rhode Island, which has an initiative to put CS curricula into all K-12 schools. At the elementary school level, they're using the CS Fundamentals curricula from Code.org, Creative Computing from Scratch Jr./Scratch, and Launch from Project Lead the Way. We're excited to see how this kind of experience from an early age changes students' attitudes and stereotypes about computer science. In a pilot study last year, we didn't see many gender differences in interest in computer science, which suggests that these experiences may be an effective way to reduce gender gaps. 

    We're planning to work most closely with the elementary school teachers in the next few years. It will be very interesting to learn how they're using the curricula and integrating it in their classrooms.

    -Allison

     

  • May 17, 2018 | 12:47 p.m.

    This has been a great discussion, both informative and inspirational. I have another question I would like to hear your opinion on. I love the idea of including coding/CS into curricula at earlier ages. At what age would you recommend starting children with CS/coding games or toys? With all the concern about media exposure at early ages, as a parent it's hard to figure out at what age spending time on digital media learning about coding might start to be a good use of some time.

     

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2018 | 01:22 p.m.

    Thanks for another great question, Anna!

    I think preschool is the perfect age to start. There's a lot of research that preschoolers/kindergarteners can be successful with concrete, physical programming tasks. We bought our daughter the Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar when she was 3, and she definitely understood how to program it (although she wasn't quite ready for some of the more advanced ways to use it, like making it reach a target). These toys are great for building general cognitive skills like understanding patterns and solving problems. A good discussion of this is in Seymour Papert's book Mindstorms, about how computers can transform children's learning as they construct knowledge for themselves.

    -Allison

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 21, 2018 | 09:48 a.m.

    I just saw this article this morning from NAEYC. It does a great job of articulating and extending the points I wanted to make, and has more great ideas for helping preschoolers build a foundation for learning how to code: Creating Play-Based Experiences

    -Allison

  • Icon for: Pablo Bendiksen

    Pablo Bendiksen

    Facilitator
    May 17, 2018 | 01:30 p.m.

    Dear Allison,

     

    Great hook into your presentation! What exciting findings that girls' interest in robotics and coding are not immutable from a young age! 

     

    In keeping track of the assistance given to any kids during the robotics intervention you mention that, overall, "children programmed the path without assistance on 58% of paths, needed a little help with 21% of paths, and needed a lot of help with 20% of paths". With the ultimate goal of having all children complete the objectives. Did you happen to find demographic/gender/socioeconomic differences between these three groups? 

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2018 | 02:29 p.m.

    Hi Pablo,

    Thanks for your comments!

    (I should mention first that our sample size for the robot group was small, and most children were from White and middle- to upper-middle-class backgrounds.) We found no gender or racial/ethnic differences in how much help children needed in programming. There was also no correlation between help needed and family income/mother's education level.

    One of the things I really appreciated about the robots that we used (made by Adriana Moscatelli and Play Works Studio) was how the drag-and-drop programming was very intuitive for children. I think that's reflected in our findings about how confident children in our robot group felt after programming the robots. In our control groups, only about 70% of the children thought they were good at using robots, but almost all of the children in our robot group told us they were good at using robots.

    -Allison

     
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    Pablo Bendiksen
  • Icon for: Sapna Cheryan

    Sapna Cheryan

    Co-Presenter
    May 17, 2018 | 01:55 p.m.

    I started my daughter on programming when she was 4 without needing any screens. I made notecards (and had her do some too) that gave simple directions, like arrows, and words like "dance" and "jump." Then she would lay them out in a sequence, and I was the robot! The notecards she added were very cute, "hug my" and "kiss my." It was super fun activity and did not involve screen time. As she gets older, I imagine adding things like loops and ifs to it. 

     
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    Allison Master
  • May 17, 2018 | 02:13 p.m.

    That's a great idea! Thank you!

  • Icon for: Pablo Bendiksen

    Pablo Bendiksen

    Facilitator
    May 19, 2018 | 10:15 a.m.

    Great response, Allison. Thank you. Great to hear that virtually all children participating in the robot group felt more confident after programming the robot and that help needed did not correlate with family income level or ethnicity.  

  • May 19, 2018 | 08:45 p.m.

    Well done video! I really enjoyed the great footage of the kids during your study. It was very interesting seeing how even a small exposure to the coding really inspired these young kids. Thank you!

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 20, 2018 | 08:46 a.m.

    Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks so much for your comment. Our project was a great way to spark their interest, but there’s still so much to learn about how to hold that interest and keep girls excited about coding!

    -Allison

  • May 20, 2018 | 04:48 p.m.

    I LOVE the charging station analogy!! It is so fitting and applicable to CS experiences, but also to professional development for teachers and almost any life activity/good habit/etc. A single experience can be powerful and memorable and have great effects, but an individual is so much better equipped to KEEP engaged and active and learning if repeated experiences are offered.

    My work at UO is moving from "mostly math" to STEM and CS and professional development, so I'll check out more of your work and then I'd love to be in touch beyond this discussion.

    In the meantime, is the gender difference the driving force in your research program or is that just motivating a piece of it? 

    (Your research lab settings take me back to my time in grad school - child development and memory - working in a similar brick lab space with young kids!) 

  • Icon for: Allison Master

    Allison Master

    Lead Presenter
    May 21, 2018 | 10:11 a.m.

    Hi Mari,

    Thanks for your comments!

    The main goal of our research program is to find ways to boost STEM motivation in students, from preschool through high school. The gender gap in interest in computer science is such a large problem that many of our projects have focused specifically on this issue.

    Research with young children is very fun—although it has its own challenges, like when a magic wand turns your lab table into a “frog”...

    I’d love to talk more with you about your work as well!

    -Allison

  • Small default profile

    Erinne Lynch

    K-12 Teacher
    May 20, 2018 | 08:46 p.m.

    Thank you for exploring and sharing the importance of providing girls with more STEM opportunities and exposure. Through my grad school research the gender gap in STEM field has always been a topic of interest for me. I have found that in addition to lack of opportunities this gap can also be attributed to lack of female role models and mentors as well as negative marketing from the media and families. The one example that has always stuck with me is the Teen Talk Barbie that states, "Math class is tough." followed by, "Party dresses are fun." It's crazy to think that this type of perspective has a deep impact on girls confidence, motivation, and persistence in STEM courses and careers.  As an educator, I want to provide all students with equal opportunities and confidence when it comes to STEM activities and learning. Your research shines a light on the importance of parent and teacher involvement in STEM activities especially with young girls. I have been hoping to incorporate more coding with toys in my classroom. Seeing the reactions of the children in your video solidifies this desire! Thanks for sharing!

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