Friday, October 3, 2008

GHC: Inspiring Girls in Technology: How to Make Every Outreach a Success

This session was absolutely fantastic. It was fun, interactive, and informative - everything an outreach activity should be!

Things kicked off with a quick "who are we" from the multiple presenters. Techbridge began by telling us about their after school and summer programs that have such innovative activities as building green doll houses and taking apart a lawnmower engine. Google briefly mentioned their pre-university initiatives and emphasized their ability to partner with other programs. The woman from Intel, originally from central Africa, spoke about how close this outreach stuff hits home for her. She grew up with a mother who always told her she could do anything, and not to listen to anyone who said otherwise. Her passion was truly inspiring.

After the welcomes, an ice-breaker was held, mainly to give an idea of how you can start off your own activities. The idea was to think about whether you strongly agreed or disagreed with particular statements, and stand in a line with the strongest agreer at one end and the strongest disagreer at the other. You had to talk to others to find out where you stood, relatively speaking. The takeaway is to always make sure you start with something interactive.

Next, a quick survey on what the audience felt girls imagine about science engineering revealed many of the usual answers. Geeky, boys, hard, failure, isolation, needing to be super smart, and working 24 hours a day. But we know that outreach helps. One Techbridge student was quoted as saying "I walked in there and I knew that's where I wanted to work." Not bad!

A recipe for success gave a good idea of how you might be able to organize the time during an outreach activity. The idea is to mix one part session and one part personal (informal and interactive), and give it time to develop. These tips were given:
  1. Start with a personal story.
  2. Share your passion.
  3. Make it interactive.
  4. Dispel stereotypes.
  5. Provide academic advice.
Finally, the Bag of Tricks was introduced as a way to collect activities that work and discard those that flopped. A few tricks, including CS Unplugged activities and Snap Circuits, were demonstrated. I already know and love the former, but I have to say that this circuit kit is really neat! It contains a bunch of parts that literally snap onto a clear, plastic board. If you complete a circuit correctly, you can turn on lights, play music, and so on, while demonstrating various concepts of current, voltage, parallel/series circuits, and so on. Very cool stuff, and apparently only about $20 for a kit.

I had to leave this session a bit early to catch the Birds of a Feather that overlapped with it a bit (to be blogged about next), but I have to say that this talk was very well done. I think the audience will walk away with a great ability to do their own activities and, certainly, the enthusiasm to want to.

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