It’s never been easy being a female in the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Part of the problem is the dearth of females in these fields—an issue that begins early on in school when girls are discouraged from pursuing them. A crop of programs have popped up to change the ratio of girls in STEM, including Girls Who Code and SMU’s Engineering Camp For Girls. But why not give interested young girls a chance to explore the world of science and engineering at home—even if they’re not interested in K’NEX and Erector sets? (And yes, we know that plenty of girls are interested in those things). We’ve come up with a handful of gifts designed for the girl geek in your life.
Devised by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, GoldieBlox is a brand new series of construction toys and books for girls that focuses on a young blond girl named Goldie who lives in what Sterling described to us as a "crazy engineering house," chock full of moving parts and gears.
In GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine, the first set in the series, Goldie—and the kid playing with the construction set—attempt to create a so-called spinning machine for a dog named Nacho who loves running in circles. It doesn’t stop there: girls are encouraged to also spin a cat named Benjamin Cranklin, a dolphin ballerina named Katinka, Phil the sloth, a bear from Brazil named Flavio. The set, which comes with wheels, a pegboard, axles, blocks, a crank, a ribbon, and washers, is appropriate for ages 5 to 9. It costs $29.99 to pre-order here. Estimated delivery is April 2013—so you’ll have to give a teaser gift for the holidays.
A triad of women who studied mechanical engineering, neuroscience, and electrical engineering created Roominate, a modular hacker dollhouse that comes with connectable circuits. Alice Brooks, one of the designers, told Co.Design: "We started with a toy that girls already love, and added educational components that make the toy even more engaging."
The original Roominate comes with four combination dry erase walls and floor panels, a complete circuit, 24 modular pieces for building furniture, decorations, and 16 connectors. The $59 toy is intended for ages 6 to 10. Expanded versions of the Roominate, including the Roominate Suite and Chateau de Roominate, are also available on the Roominate site.
Slightly older girls (11 and up) might enjoy the $199 Hummingbird robotics kit, created by BirdBrain Technologies (a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University). The kit comes with four sub-kits: a light and vibration set with 10 multi-colored LEDs and two vibration motors; a control set that comes with an auxiliary motor power supply, a USB cable, and a screwdriver; a motion that includes DC motors and servos; and a sensing kit that contains sound, temperature, distance, light sensors along with a rotary knob; basically, anything you would need to build the robot of your dreams.
The possibilities are virtually endless. One group of high school kids from West Virginia used the kit to build a dragon with flapping wings and a replica of R2D2. Seventh and eighth graders from the Allegheny Valley School District built scenes from poetry—one group made a robotic interpretation of Grass by Carl Sandburg’s poem that contained a world map with LEDs indicating battle sites and a motorized toy train to bring clay bodies to a mini cemetery. There’s nothing specifically female-oriented about the Hummingbird; it would make a great gift for any kid interested in robotics. The kit is available for purchase here.