|Gear Girls Tech Club Thrives at LREI|
Thursday afternoons in the technology lab at LREI you’ll find middle school students dissecting computers, tinkering with circuits and motherboards, and creating their own interactive games using coding apps. One thing you won’t find here? Boys.
Gear Girls, LREI’s all-girls, after-school technology club made up of about 15 middle school girls, formed last year when a few female students found that the boys’ voices were overtaking their technology classes and clubs. At Gear Girls, the environment is special. The focus is less on who gets the right answer the fastest, and more on including many voices from the group.
“We don’t have the girls raise their hands. If you see that someone wants to say something, you pause and you let them say it,” explained Clair Segal, LREI middle school technology integrator and one of the club’s three female facilitators. “It creates a sharing space for the girls and reminds them that we are all listening to them.”
The group learning approach guides how the Gear Girls solve problems. During an assignment to make a circuit from copper wire, after one group got their circuit to light up, they turned to the other groups to suggest possible solutions to their versions. “As the teachers, we really aren’t the leaders,” said Gear Gears facilitator and LREI lower school technology teacher Celeste Dorsey. “The girls help each other in a way that makes it feel like a sisterhood.”
Gear Girls explores many sides of technology. “I like Gear Girls because we do something different every time, like taking apart computers and programming,” said sixth grader Gwen. The girls love the tactile task of using mini screwdrivers to disassemble older model laptops and investigating how they work mechanically and electrically. Some of them even spent their winter break pulling apart their old toys and their parents’ old, chunky cellphones, explains Julia Wilson, a Gear Gears facilitator and LREI technology associate.
The idea of students using technology to explore and discover on their own is planted early in the LREI lower school curriculum. Instead of logging screen time, in the younger grades teachers focus on using technology purposefully when it authentically enhances student learning. “We believe that to learn to use technology well, children learn best by doing—with all the mistakes and effort that comes with the territory,” said Lower School Principal Namita Tolia.
In technology classes, lower school students are introduced to programming with programs like MicroWorlds
and middle school students continue to code with programs like Scratch
. Robotics is offered beginning in fifth grade after school and combines many of the computer skills students learn in technology and science classes with design and construction.
Gear Girls also builds enthusiasm for the engineering field, a national trend to get more young women interested in careers in computer science. The girls are very aware of the effort. “Gear Girls is about getting girls to be in tech. That’s important because there’s not enough women in technology,” said fifth grader Olivia. “I come to Gear Girls because most girls aren’t engineers and I want to change that,” said fifth grader Oni.
The club also gives the girls the opportunity to see themselves as the community's tech leaders. In December they used their expertise in coding programs like Tynker
to lead teaching sessions during LREI’s Hour of Code
, a one-hour introduction to computer science and code for LREI students and parents.
Female role models in the STEM fields have visited the group, including Bitly
software engineer Jenna Zeigen and Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox
. What’s up next? The girls are planning a weekend field trip to explore 3D printing at the MakerBot
store and are having larger discussions about their digital footprints as they prepare to attend an Intelligence Squared debate
on the right to be forgotten online.