LEGO introduces female lab scientist

LEGO’s new female scientist “minifigure” helps break stereotypes that discourage girls from considering STEM careers, writes Maia Weinstock, a Scientific American guest blogger.

Originally, LEGO people wore very simple clothing and had “two dots and a curved smile for a face,” writes Weinstock. Minifigures were introduced in 1978.

The first female minifig in LEGO’s Space series was an
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astronaut in the Ice Planet 2002 series, which depicted scientists working on the fictional planet Krysto.

LEGO’s Town (now City) series, which features minifigs in everyday life, includes doctors, EMTs, engineers, astronauts and space scientists. A Town doctor was the first female minifig in the series.

Most STEM professionals issued recently have been male, including the Computer Programmer, which debuted last year. He’s a cringe-worthy stereotype, writes Weinstock. Cover edit 3 “His nerdy attire, including bow tie and broken glasses, harkens back to an era and style that rendered programmers completely uncool.” (Are they cool now?)

LEGO also has a thing for mad scientists. The first one “wore a lab coat, a stethoscope, and a patently diabolical face.” Now there’s a wild-gray-haired Crazy Scientist, though he doesn’t look quite so evil.

Here are some examples of male and female minifigures in STEM-related professions.

Examples of male and female minifigures in STEM-related professions

 

Barbie gets her 'geek chic' on

Thanks to a campaign by female computer professionals, Barbie will be a computer engineer, reports the Wall Street Journal. “Please help us in getting Barbie to get her Geek on!” came the appeal from the blog GeekGirlCamp.

Mattel gave visitors to Barbie’s site a choice of careers for the job-hopping doll:  architect, anchorwoman, computer engineer, environmentalist or surgeon. More than 600,000 votes were cast during a four-week period this past winter.  Girls overwhelmingly wanted to see Barbie as an anchorwoman. But then female computer engineers “launched a viral campaign on the Internet to get out the vote and ensure Barbie would join their ranks,” the Journal reports.

The former fashion model, stewardess, dentist, astronaut, rock star and presidential candidate is going high-tech.

The result is a ponytailed doll in black leggings and a top decorated in binary code that spells Barbie, and lots of pink accessories—geek-chic glasses, Bluetooth headset and shoes.

Fewer women are majoring in computer science: In 2008, women received 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985.  So women in the field are eager to encourage girls to consider computer careers.

After learning about the election from the National Academy of Engineers, Erin Fitzgerald, a science and technology fellow in the U.S. Department of Defense, helped get out the vote. “There is a perception that an interest in math, science and computers means being socially awkward and boring and sacrificing the opportunity to be creative and fun,” she says.

When Mattel asked women computer scientists how to design the new Barbie, they replied: ” ‘Make us look cool and hip.’ ‘Don’t put us in lab coats.’ ‘Don’t make us look like nerds.’ ”

The prototype was displayed at the International Toy Fair in New York Feb. 11.

Veronica Belmont, a San Francisco resident who has an online-technology video show and who says she snubbed Barbie as a girl in favor of toys she could take apart and reassemble, thought Barbie’s sparkly leggings and pink accessories “were over the top.”

“I found the pink condescending,” Ms. Belmont says, “but if it will get little girls’ attention and get them to play with computers, it’s a good start.”

Mattel says Computer Engineer Barbie — and News Anchor Barbie — will be in stores in the fall.

Episcopal Priest Barbie (via Instapundit) is not a Mattel-designed doll.

Left-brained child, right-brained world

Once they called it “marching to the beat of a different drummer.” Now the eccentric kid who does his own thing may be labeled a nerd or diagnosed with “social anxiety disorder” or Asperger’s Syndrome.

Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World by Katherine Beals offers “strategies for helping bright, quirky, socially awkward children thrive at home and at school.” Beals, who blogs at Out in Left Field, argues that left-brainy children do best with a structured, analytical curriculum. New ways of teaching, such as unsupervised, group-centered discovery and open-ended, interdisciplinary projects may leave them confused, bored and floundering.

Beals suggests how parents can advocate for their children and reminds them that it’s not so bad to raise a non-conformist.

My nephew is one of those left-brainers. Despite an Asperger’s diagnosis, he was told in class after class to write about his feelings, which he considered an invasion of privacy, rather than being allowed to analyze a book or a historical issue or whatever. He’s now studying computer science with his fellow lefties.

In keeping with my self-promotion vow, I will mention my book, Our School:  The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.