Teaching Girls to Tinker…and Boys for That Matter

 I recently came across a summary of an article by Education Week, “Teaching Girls to Tinker” that got me thinking. 

While teaching science in both middle school and high school, it was clear that there was not a gender discrepancy in the way that girls and boys were taught and encouraged in both math and science.  At least there wasn’t bias in my class, school or district.  In fact, more often than not, the highest performers in my classes were female.  Our Advanced Placement classes usually had more girls than boys. But now looking out over the 1500 students I have taught, many more males went on to pursue careers in engineering and the sciences.   What causes this?

Girls Take Apart Computer

Teaching Girls to Tinker” proposes that the fact that girls don’t tinker could be responsible for this inequity.  I believe there is truth in this thought.  In general, boys are more likely to take things apart, albeit sometimes maliciously.  Boys are more likely to build forts, play with Legos, and Erector sets.  All these activities help build spacial reasoning and give the kids knowledge about how things work.  With this in mind, girls need to be encouraged to tinker.

Now for the thought that really scares me… kids in general don’t tinker anymore. They sit in front of the computer, X-box or TV; or every minute of their after-school time is scheduled with sports, music or dance (or in our case in Boulder: yoga!).   I grew up building forts and go-carts and taking things apart.  When I was in school, they offered wood shop, metal shop, auto mechanics, etc.  The days  where comprehensive high schools offer technical classes alongside college prep classes  and parents encourage their students to play outside seem to be gone.  Our kids’ lives are completely planned, with little room for tinkering.  My fear is that this will have long term ramifications for our society as our engineers are less experienced and  the people that know how to build and fix things die off. 

It is time that we encourage our kids to get outside, break things,  then fix them.  My seven year old son has been begging us to buy a car from the junkyard so that he can use the parts to build things.  Well, perhaps it is time for a trip to the junkyard, but only if his sister helps…

Airplane Junkyard

We might not have the space for the plane though!

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