|7-year-old Zora Ball (Photo courtesy Harambee Institute.)|
This past week, at age seven, first grader Zora Ball became the youngest person to create a mobile application video game. First off, talk about impressive – when I was seven, a successful day included dancing to the Spice Girls on my bed in my pajamas and Dunkaroos in my lunchbox (preferably chocolate). Go Zora!
More importantly, however, let’s use Zora as proof of something really important: that girls can love math and science and be passionate about it, and that programs to show girls that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) can be fun and interesting are vital.
Ball is a first-grader at Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in Philadelphia, PA. She (and the other students in the STEMnasium learning academy) attend class every Saturday and love it – they even come voluntarily on weekends! The program is even currently teaching students Mandarin Chinese – with the idea that students will complete transactions in Philly’s Chinatown. IN MANDARIN CHINESE.
Zora is proof that when little girls are turned on to STEM, they get into it. Take the toy Roominate – it’s a buildable toy house that kids design and wire themselves. As kids, we tie the sparks we feel for our interests to toys – my love of theater was evident in puppet shows, dance routines, and talent shows. My sister’s love of music can be tied back to the first time she picked up a guitar. In a clip from the Melissa Harris-Perry Show this past weekend, a highlighted clip from the Disney Junior show Doc McStuffins shows an African-American female doctor attributing a toy doctor’s kit to her pursuing a medical career. Which is why Roominate is so great – it teaches girls circuitry, spatial perception, planning, and critical thinking. Way cooler than any dollhouse I played with as a kid.
Sadly, programs like Zora’s and cool toys like Roominate are the exception to the rule of encouraging girls in STEM. In a recent study of girls ages 14-17, 57% said that they believed that if they went into a STEM career, they would have to work harder than men to be taken seriously. Boys continue to take more classes in STEM related subjects than girls do. Women continue to earn far fewer degrees in those areas, and in computer science, women’s representation has been declining. Science faculty from research-intensive universities hold subtle gender biases, rating male applicants higher and offering them higher salaries as well as more mentoring.
The key here, of course, is increasingly getting girls stoked about the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math from a young age and supporting the programs and endeavors that aim to do just that. Let’s learn from Zora Ball and the success of Roominate – girls love STEM, we just have to give them a chance to show it.