Are Girls better at robotics than boys?

Last week the Equal Opportunities Commission published their findings of how boys and girls fare in non-traditional careers. They found that there were very few girls in plumbing or construction and very few boys in childcare. Much of the blame for this was put on poor careers guidance and a lack of opportunity for school students to try different options.

SETPOINT Wales has been running robotics activitites in Wales for the last five years and co-developed the British Council Roverbot project as well. We have consistently found that girls have done much better than they expected and often better than the boys. This includes an all-girls team winning the Welsh Final of last year’s First Lego League competition.

There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Girls work in teams much better than boys. A team of girls will always build 1 robot, a team of boys will always start to build as many robots as people in that team!
  2. Girls are just as good as boys at the problem solving aspects of robotics
  3. We use scenarios that are not based around conflict e.g. Robot Wars, but are more realistic and engaging such as rescuing stranded astronauts or building a robot to find meteorites

We have seen the growth in self-confidence of the girls who have achieved in technology over the course ofthe sessions, and this has been repeated whenevr we have run sessions all over the world.

Robotics is going to be a key industry in the coming years as most other sectors will become more reliant on robots. It is an industry that depends upon skills from many different disciplines, including electronics, software development, pyschology, biology, physics and many more. If we are going to be designing robots to assist people then the skills and experiences of both genders will be needed to get it right.



5 comments


    Mark Brake

    April 6, 2005

    Bruce’s comments on gender factors are of great interest to
    those of us attempting to address disenfranchisement from
    potential science careers.

    His points are also greatly at odds with the Russian Space
    Agency. On one of their recent visits to Glamorgan our Russian
    cosmonaut friends were asked about the Agency’s planned
    policy on a “manned” mission to Mars.

    _*It seems they plan to exclude women cosmonauts on the
    grounds that they can be disruptive to team work.*_

    Now I’m not sure what the comrades have in mind here. Could it be that they are anxious about being shown up by the girls? Or perhaps they’ll be too much of a distraction to the men as they do the ‘real’ work? Some wag suggested that, being women, they’d decide halfway to change the mission parameters and bugger off to Venus.

    Whatever the reason it seems that such chauvinism flies in the
    face of Bruce’s facts.

    Mark Banerji

    April 6, 2005

    Indeed!
    I seem to recall that a school where the kids had been labeled with learning difficulties achieved some of the fastest times with there robots!

    It appears that roboschool reaches the parts that other schools cannot reach!

    Robert

    April 6, 2005

    So we know that all-girl teams can outperform all-boy teams. How do mixed gender teams compare?

    Perhaps the Russian plans aren’t based on discrimination, but on a single-gender mission team preference? (Yeah, being optimistic as always)

    I’m not surprised boys are bad at team work. I always loathed the idea, and all the managery types throwing around the slogan like the lastest fashion fad. Teamwork = one person does all the work, all people get the credit. But, alas, my CV contains the words “teamwork skills” among many other things I wouldn’t be able to say with a straight face….

    Bruce

    April 6, 2005

    Confidence is one of the biggest factors in students’ approaches to new topics/techniques. Girls tend to have much lower confidence in their ability to do robotics than boys. Mixed gender teams than tend to allow the girls to sit back and let the boys get on with it.

    I have never forced students into groups when running activities, but have noticed that the groups always split along gender lines. bearing in mind that most of the robotics activities that we run have been to 13-15 year olds, who are generally for more comfortable with members of their own gender.

    I know of one secondary school that is splitting the design and technology students along gender lines to allow the girls to develop confidence in the subject away from the boys.

    I also know of research into general learning in schools which found that girls performed better when taught in single sex classes, but boys performed better when the girls were present. It seems that the girls had a calming effect on the boys’ behaviour and so the boys remained focus for longer!

    Mike Reddy

    April 6, 2005

    Mark asked about mixed teams. My assessment would be that the boys fared better and the girls worse than single gender teams would have done. It is a paradox of education in general that females should be taught in single sex classes and males in mixed classes. Maybe we should invent a third gender so everybody could be happy?

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