TOOLS ARE COOL AND SO AM I: THE IMPACT OF FAMILY TOOLS AND TECHNOLOGY ON GIRLS AND BOYS
Patricia B. Campbell PhD, Kathyrn Acerbo Bachmann, MA, Karin Steinbrueck Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc. October 1996
In the past twenty years there have been a variety of efforts to increase girls and womens involvement with math, science and technology. Most of the programs directed at students have been single sex, including Operation SMART, Summer Math: EUREKA!, and Expanding Your Horizons. While there is value to an out-of-school single sex experience for girls, ultimately both girls and boys have to learn how to work together. In school and out, girls need to learn what it takes to reach their goals, boys need to learn to respect girls and to work with them and teachers and other adult leaders need to learn how to create an environment where this happens.
This belief is at the heart of Family Tools and Technology (FT2). FT2 was developed by Arlene Chasek of the Consortium for Educational Equity at Rutgers University. It builds on the Family Math model, which combines parent involvement, hands-on activities and fun, FT2 targets girls and their parents in coed settings with a focus on using tools and solving problems in order to expose under-represented students, particularly girls, and their parents to tools, technology and related careers.
Under FT2 a series of 12 major tool-related challenges were developed, as were a variety of related "warm-up" activities. Teacher teams are trained to use the activities and implement the model with an equity focus. They then return to their districts where they recruit elementary students and parents and conduct a series of hands-on sessions for families.
The major goal of FT2 is for girls and boys and parents to work together to "reduce the gaps while all gain", in such diverse areas as tool use, comfort using tools, problem-solving and reduction in gender stereotyping. During the 1995-96 year, twelve sessions of FT2 were done in 12 schools. The FT2 attendance target was ten families with 70% of the children attending being girls. Nine of the 12 teams achieved that goal with the others coming close. In spite of the snowiest winter on record on the east coast, FT2 attendance stayed relatively consistent across the sites with few sites having major drops in the number of families and students participating. The FT2 target of 70% girls was met. Overall 72% of the students attending were girls and 28% were boys. Adult females were in a slight majority, with 54% of those attending women and 46% men. In addition 35% of the children attending were children of color.
To begin to explore the impact of FT2 on participating girls and boys, all students attending FT2 completed questionnaires at the beginning of their involvement with FT2 and again at the end of the 6th and 12th sessions. The questionnaires focused on their own tool use, attitudes toward tools and those who use them, as well as the tool and technology activities they did out of school and their career interests.
More intensive data was collected from FT2 students in three schools, who were matched with a control group of non FT2 students in their schools by grade, gender and ethnicity. Prior to their involvement with FT2 and again in the spring, FT2 and control students did a series of problem-solving assessments including:
· designing a tool and describing its function
· solving a word problem (which had no single correct answer) and describing the process(es) they used to solve the problem
· "Save A Pig" a challenge which involved building a structure that would withstand a wind challenge, using a specific set of materials, with the choice of working either alone or collaboratively.
In addition teachers provided information on adult/child attendance and their assessment of each session and adults and children responded to what they liked and didnt like about FT2 . The data were supplemented by observations of a sample of FT2 sessions and teacher training sessions.
Family Tools and Technology shows girls and minorities that they have as much ability and the same opportunity in professions known typically as "for white males only." --teacher/facilitator
FT2 reduced gender stereotypes, particularly boys stereotypes, about girls who use tools and about women and men.
· After 12 sessions of FT2, both girls and boys became significantly less gender stereotyped in their responses to "When I use tools I feel ", "Girls who use tools are ", "Boys who use tools are " and "A woman should ".
Sample changes from the first session to the sixth session to the twelfth session included:
When I use tools I feel "Scared that I might hurt myself" TO "Happy" TO "Happy to use tools" (Girl)
Girls who use tools "Take longer to use them than boys" TO "Could be as good as boys" TO "Use them the same as boys" (Girl)
Boys who use tools "Use tools to fix things- girls use tools to draw or do crafts" TO "Boys use tools to fix things " TO "Both boys and girls use tools to work on projects"(Girl).
· After 12 sessions of FT2, boys gained significantly more than girls, reducing the gender gap in students stereotypes about "Girls who use tools ", "A woman should " and "A man should ".
Sample changes over the first, sixth and twelfth sessions included:
Girls who use tools are "Should not use tools- they should cook and clean" TO "Should not use tools TO "Sometimes become friends" (Boy)
A woman should "Be cautious when using tools" TO "Use kitchen tools" TO "Use tools" (Boy).
Attitudes Toward Tools And Those Who Use Them
FT2 improves student attitudes towards tools, as well as towards those who use them, with a particular emphasis on improving boys attitudes towards girls who use tools.
· After 12 sessions of FT2 both girls and boys gave significantly more positive responses to: "When I use tools I feel..." and "Boys who use tools are ".
Sample changes over the first, sixth and twelfth sessions included:
When I use tools I feel "Okay" TO "Powerful" TO "Powerful" (Girl)
Boys who use tools "Are probably better than girls" TO "Arent any better than girls" TO "Are smart (like girls who use tools)" (Girl) ·
· After 12 sessions of FT2 both girls and boys became significantly more positive in their responses to "Girls who use tools are " and "A women should " Boys larger gains reduced the "gender attitude gap". Interestingly, boys became slightly less positive in their responses to "A man should " while girls became more so.
Sample changes over the first, sixth and twelfth sessions included:
Girls who use tools are "Not nice" TO "Not nice" TO "Okay" (Boy)
A woman should "Sew" TO "Not use tools" TO "Make stuff" (Boy)
A man should . "Not Sure" TO "Use tools" TO "Not think they are all better at using tools than women" (Girl).
Use Of Tools
FT2 appears to have an impact on the number and type of tools students use.
· After six sessions of FT2 both girls and boys increased the number of tools they said they used, although by the 12th session the numbers were lower. By the 12th session of FT2, 20% of the girls and 27% of the boys said they used "all kinds of tools."
· After twelve sessions of FT2 girls significantly increased the number of categories of tools they used (i.e., sports-related tools, digging tools, sawing/drilling tools), while the number of categories of tools boys said they used decreased.
· FT2 students in the controlled study significantly increased the number of tools they said they used, while non FT2 control students decreased the number of tools they said they used.
· FT2 students in the controlled study significantly increased the number of categories of tools they used, while non FT2 students decreased the categories of tools they said they used.
What Tool and Technology Activities Students Do
FT2 appears to have a positive impact on the tool-related activities students did but did not reduced the gender gaps in these areas.
· After 12 sessions of FT2 students were significantly more apt to have used tools, fixed toys, used junk or Leggos to build things, changed a bicycle chain, changed a bicycle tire, fixed electrical appliances, programmed a VCR, and used a meter (like a voltmeter). In each of these cases, there was no overall change in gender differences. Students were also more apt to report that they worked with electromagnets but gender differences favoring boys actually increased.
FT2 did not appear to have an impact on career areas.
· Girls listed more careers where you have to design and build things than boys at the beginning and end of FT2. The jobs most likely to be listed both pre and post were architect, engineer and carpenter. The only real difference was that girls were more apt to list "mechanic" as a career in the 12th session.
· Both girls and boys, on average, listed less than one career each for themselves in the 1st session of FT2. Girls throughout the sessions were most apt to mention "artist" and "architect" as jobs they were interested in doing as a career. There was no pattern for what boys listed.
FT2 did not appear to have an impact on the problem-solving skills measured by the problem-solving assessment. However, the results of the problem solving data must be interpreted with care. Deliberately activities were selected that were, at best, indirectly related to the activities done in FT2. The measures used did not cover that which was learned about problem-solving in FT2. The results appear to be related to the difficulties students have in generalizing what is learned in after school programs to school-oriented activities.
· Being in FT2 did not effect how students solved the word problems. Neither did it influence their willingness to look for more than one right answer.
· While both FT2 and control students designed many creative inventive tools, being in FT2 did not influence the type or category of tool they designed. Nor did it influence their description of the tool they described.
· FT2 did not appear to have a significant impact on the ways that students solved the Save a Pig challenge.
Response To FT2
Adults and children like FT2 .
· Participants liked both the FT2 experience and the activities themselves with adults being most apt to say that "everything" was what they liked best about FT2. (Children tended to see building and specific activities as what was best).
I liked working with tools because I never used them before. --girl
Tools and Technology was great for our family. It made me feel like I was really involved with my girls. We all had a great time and shared our projects with others. --mother
· There were few things students didnt like and as the following quote indicates most of these were beyond the programs control i.e. The only thing I didnt like was that Family Tools was at the same time as my favorite TV show. By the 12th session adults and children were listing some specific activities that they didnt like with their reasoning reflecting the comments of the father who explained:
Ultimately the projects we liked were the ones that we felt successful in completing and the projects we disliked were the ones we did not complete satisfactorily.
· Adults reported coming to FT2 to spend time with their child (28%), to do interesting and fun activities (18%), to help their child develop an interest in learning (18%), and because their child really wanted to (16%). Only 6% came to encourage their daughter to do non-traditional activities.
Family Tools and Technology (FT2) is an exciting, innovative program that increases the degree to which both girls and boys are involved in such physical science-related activities as working with electromagnets and using meters, as well as such problem- solving activities as fixing electrical appliances and toys (not to mention programming a VCR- a true problem-solving activity). This has particular implications for girls who are less apt to do the "fun" out-of-school, science-related activities that can lead to an interest in, or even a passion for some aspect of science.
FT2 not only affects the activities students do, it also increases their use of tools and their attitudes toward tools and towards those who use them. This is particularly important because the students are using tools in context- not just to hammer a nail, for example, but to use tools as part of a process of building a model and meeting a physical science challenge- again activities that girls are less apt to do. It shows students, particularly girls, that parents who make the effort to bring their child to FT2 (and to participate themselves) see these activities as "good things to do."
Another effect of FT2 is reducing boys and girls gender stereotypes in a large way. Teachers did a lot to make this happen. They reported using 21 different techniques to encourage girls, including asking girls questions to encourage them (83%) and praising girls to encourage them (75%).
The reduction of gender stereotypes may be the most important result in terms of increasing girls involvement in science and technology. It is quite obvious that a girl who might go on to careers in science and technology, who has classmates who feel that girls "should not use tools- they should cook and clean" or that boys who use tools "are probably better than girls" will have a lot more difficulties than girls whose classmates feel that girls who use tools "sometimes become friends" or that boys who use tools "are smart (like girls who use tools)". FT2 has shown it can change students opinions in ways that make them more receptive to girls in nontraditional areas. This receptivity is important.
There are also some areas in which FT2 did not work as well as hoped, specifically careers and school-oriented problem-solving. The lack of change in careers listed or considered is relatively easy to address and is now being done in FT2. Teachers, parents and students are talking about the skills needed for different jobs and how those skills, and those jobs, are related to the activities students do under FT2. It is expected that the explicit focus on jobs and careers will have an impact on students.
The transferability of problem-solving skills from FT2 activities to school-related activities is a much more challenging issue. It is perhaps unrealistic to expect students to change how they react to school-related activities based on what they do in an after school program. This is an issue that all after school programs, not just FT2, need to address. Often the point of after school programs is that they are different from school. And when in the after school program, parents are involved with their children, the differences become greater. These differences may make students generalization of skills learned in after school programs to school very difficult. It is an area in need of reflection and research.
In closing, FT2 has been very successful, providing students and their parents with important experiences, helping them rethink what girls and boys and women and men can do and helping them to feel powerful, in control and in charge.
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