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We need more girls. Over the past 15 years, the global community has invested a lot of effort in engaging and encouraging females to actively participate in science-related industries, however, the current numbers are not promising.

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11th February the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The objective of this day is to celebrate females who are leading innovation, at the same time, to create awareness for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in science.

What else can we do? How can Malaysian parents find more inspiration for their daughters?

Photo credit: Linda Liukas Instagram

Parents will be thrilled to know that there is an organisation like Rail Girls KL to introduce women and girls to the world of coding. Inspired by the work of Linda Liukas, one of the founders of Rail Girls, the Kuala Lumpur chapter is part of a global network that teaches women and girls programming.

An inspiring figure, Liukas also authored Hello Ruby, a whimsical children’s book about the world of computers. She founded Rail Girls in Finland with Karri Saarinen in 2010. They aim to make technology and computer programming more accessible and approachable to girls. With a presence in more than 300 cities, the movement is fast gaining momentum.

Rails Girls KL was founded by Malaysians Sher Minn and Wunmin Wong back in 2017. Both now reside overseas and the current organising committee consists of Lindy Lim and Michelle Ler.

Lim is a recent A-Levels graduate who is continously seeking to improve her programming skills. Ler is currently pursuing a computer science degree. They organise free workshops that cover an introduction to technology, basic programming, sketching and prototyping. Considering they are actually volunteers with Rail Girls, their efforts are incredibly inspiring! These workshops are conducted with support from sponsors and experts from the industry who act as mentors to participants.

Lindy Lim (in blue) mentoring the girls in a 2018 workshop. Photo credit: Rails Girls KL Facebook.

Some of the past programmes they have conducted include collaborations with Women Who Code in 2017 and 2018 for the Hour of Code. The workshop was aimed at youth from ages seven to 17. Rails Girls KL also organised a workshop called Ruby on Rails in 2018 which attracted over 140 applicants! Unfortunately, due to limited space, they had to limit the number of participants to 60. The youngest was 16 years of age and the oldest being in her 50s!

2019 Coding events by Rail Girls KL – Come one, come all!

  1. March/April: Rails Girls will be partnering with mapping tech company HERE Technologies to conduct a workshop on JavaScript which will be open to all ages.
  2. June: School holidays workshop targeted at teenagers aged 13 to 17.
  3. December: Hour of Code workshop in collaboration with Women Who Code and Google developers. This workshop will be targeted at younger audiences.

Details of the events above are unconfirmed. Do follow Rails Girls KL on Facebook for further information.

Why coding?

As science and technology continue to permeate every aspect of our lives, being digitally literate is becoming more of a basic necessity.  In the simplest definition, coding is about developing a series of commands for the computer to follow. Imagine having that skill at your fingertips, the possibilities are endless!

Even if your child may not end up with a tech-related career, learning to code offers a lot of other advantages:

  1. It improves critical thinking and problem solving – When a child codes, they break down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable parts. This encourages logical and computational thinking.  According to Dr. Dan Crow, Chief Technology Officer of Songkick, computational thinking “will help you understand and master technology of all sorts and solve problems in almost any discipline.”
  2. It encourages creativity – By giving simple commands to the computer, kids are encouraged to experiment with various outcomes. This will inspire the child to be more curious, question assumptions and hopefully gain more confidence to explore their creativity.
  3. It develops resilience –  Plenty of things can go wrong when you code. But what better way to build perseverance than working through the challenges faced. Coding teaches kids to be resilient in dealing with failures and to see that it is not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, it can be an opportunity to learn and simply bounce back.

If your child is too young to attend coding classes or workshops, you can always nurture the interest and start with STEM toys. Provide the opportunity for your daughters (and sons) to learn about technology and the way computers work. Hopefully, this will give them an advantage later on in life.

 

In a survey conducted by the Royal Institution’s L’Oreal Young Scientist Centre in 2012, half of the children interviewed found STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects too difficult or boring. Too many kids quit because they don’t think that they are smart enough to learn STEM or that it is only relevant to jobs in medicine.

This mindset among young children is certainly worrying. We need children to be excited about science, and it’s best to start them early. Here’s why and how.

It’s Even Worse for Girls

Let’s talk about the numbers.

According to data collected by UNESCO, between 2014- 2016, only 30 percent of female students would choose science-related subjects in higher education. The number of girls choosing to enroll in Information, Communication Technology (ICT) is the lowest, at 3 percent. With many predicting the highest growth in computer-related jobs in the next 10 years, and 90 percent of future jobs requiring skills in ICT, the situation looks rather bleak.

It is not surprising that great efforts have been made to allow equal access, and to encourage more girls and women to participate fully in science. It is why we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, every year, on February 11th.

5 Ways Kids Learn Through Play

Children learn best through play. This has been proven, many times over, in different studies, over the years. While not all types of play is learning, we should look at 5 defining characteristics when we talk about playful learning experiences

1.   Kids should be having fun.

Surprisingly, they also learn better if things do not go as planned. An example are toys that ‘react’ in ways children do not expect.

2.   They should connect new information to their own experiences.

For example, my son could recite the numbers 1 to 10 by the time he was 2. It took him longer to understand when I asked him to get only three pieces of candy for himself.

3.  Their learning is hands-on, and they continue to focus, through distractions.

4.  They repeat their exercise.

When they try different things with their toys and getting different results, they can understand a new concept on a deeper level.

5.  They play with others.

Studies have shown that kids playing with their peers build larger and more complex structures, than when their play is “directed” by adults.

How To Encourage Science with STEM toys

We know toys are beloved by kids and fun, but STEM toys also allow kids to explore STEM-related concepts and help develop their problem-solving skills.

We asked Janie & Joe, voted Best Toy Store in Malaysia and winner of Parents’ Choice Awards in 2018, to help us choose some great and educational STEM toys for young kids. Here are some of their recommendations:

1. Learning Resources’ Gears! Gears! Gears! and Engineering and Design Series

Purdue University’s INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering compiles the Engineering Gift Guide every year. These toys help kids explore concepts in engineering thinking and design. The first two below were in the guide, but you could start even earlier with the 100-piece Deluxe Building Set, which can help introduce simple concepts of sorting and grouping.Gears! Gears! Gears! Machines in Motion

Age: 4+

Price: RM 199.00

Playground Engineering and Design Building Set

Age: 5+

Price: RM 149.90Gear! Gears! Gears! 100-piece Deluxe Building Set

Age: 3+

Price: RM 139.90

2. Coding with Botley, the Coding Robot, and Code & Go Robot Mouse

Both Botley, and Colby, were also featured in the 2018 Engineering Gift Guide. These toys introduce coding concepts to kids in simple and fun ways. With Colby, children start by building a maze, then program sequences for the mouse to chase the cheese. With Botley, children need to enter instructions on a remote control to move it around obstacles.

Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set

Age: 4+

Price: RM 349.90Botley 77-piece Activity Set

Age: 5+

Price: RM 499.90

3. Design & Drill Series

If you are looking for toys that will help develop hand-eye coordination and strengthen motor skills, these ones could be for you. They also encourage problem solving, patterning, and design skills.  While some girls might prefer the Flower Power Studio, the My First Workbench is gender-neutral and Brightworks allows them to make incredible, glow-in-the-dark creations.
Design & Drill Flower Power Studio

Age: 3+

Price: RM 199.90Design & Drill My First Workbench

Age: 3+

Price: RM 299.90Design & Drill Brightworks

Age: 3+

Price: RM 229.90

4. Nancy B’s Science Club Series – the Crime Stopper Scope and the Forensic Activity Journal

Nancy B’s Science Club Series is the brainchild of a former science teacher, and specifically designed to encourage girls to see the fun in science. A winner of the Parents’ Choice Recommended Award in 2013, the Crime Solver Scope and the Forensic Activity Journal is perfect for older girls who love to solve mysteries. It teaches young sleuths the finer points of crime investigation, such as the study of fingerprints and the difference between human hair and fibres.Nancy B’s Science Club Crime Solver Scope

Age: 8+

Price: RM 99.90

5. BrainBox Series

In 2018, Academics’ Choice Awards listed the BrainBox series as great buys for kids ages 7 and up. This timed, fast-paced memory game encourages kids to improve their observation skills, while introducing relevant facts in a fun way. There are many different topics you could choose, but we would recommend the BrainBox Maths, developed by a primary school teacher with 30 years of experience; and BrainBox Science, which covers important topics such as life cycles, the human body and plants.Brain Box Maths

Age: 7+

Price: RM 79.90Brain Box Science

Age: 7+

Price: RM 79.90

[All the toys listed here, are available for purchase from their store, in Bangsar Village, and their online store, at https://www.janieandjoe.com.]

Parents Can Do More Than Just Buying The ‘Right’ Toys For Their Kids

Don’t just stop at the toys, parents. The most important quality we could nurture in our kids is curiosity. Even Einstein said: “The most important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Encourage your children to ask the right questions which will help them arrive at the answers on their own.

Avoid trying to take over, and provide all the answers.

When they do get it right, try and praise the “process”, rather than the achievement itself. This is even more important when it comes to girls. Studies have shown that mothers and teachers are more likely to praise boys on this “process” (e.g. their hard work and focus) than girls. We need to be mindful not to do the same to our daughters.

Learning science should be more than about answering questions in a test. It is about paying attention to the world around you, asking questions, testing your theories, and making changes and improvements when you fail.

It requires bravery, focus and perseverance. These are the qualities you would want your kids to have, in preparation for a future that is filled with uncertainties, and a world that is constantly, and rapidly changing.

By Najmin Tajuddin

Over the past 15 years, Najmin worked as a management consultant, ran a community-supported agriculture (CSA) programme out of an integrated goat farm, and helped manage an equine centre. A biologist by training, this mum of three (5 to 13 years old) now has all her kids in school. She wants to spend more time reading, writing and gardening, and sharing her discovery of fun local places at Mums of Makchic.

In conjunction with International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Janie&Joe is offering a 10% discount to makchic readers! Promotion is applicable on their online store (voucher code JJMAKCHIC) and at their physical store in Bangsar Village II (just mention the makchic website to their staff). Valid from Saturday, 9th February to Monday, 11th February 2019 and excludes items already on sales/other promotions. Complimentary gift wrapping services are available to both online and physical store purchases.

When you think of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, your mind probably conjures up images of little scientists pouring coloured liquids into beakers from Erlenmeyer flasks, or teeny bespectacled maths geniuses scribbling equations onto a blackboard.

The reality is though, that most STEM learning occurs outside the classroom. This article in The Conversation suggests the learning doesn’t need to stop once school is out. Your kids (and you) can keep learning at home by providing opportunities to deepen engagement with STEM.

Here are some things you can do at home with your little ones to show them how science happens in everyday life:

Bring science week home

Do your homework as a parent and have various science-themed activities at home. Spend a weekend making papier-mâché planets, take a trip to the National Planetarium and in the evening, wind down with a family space-themed movie (2001: A Space Odyssey, anyone?) During the week, weather permitting, head outside for some stargazing and identify the constellations.

If space feels too out of this world, dive deep into the seas while keeping your feet dry (if you want) by taking a trip to Aquaria KLCC. If you have a fish tank, get on the Internet together to find out about these aquatic friends. Younger kids would delight in Disney favourites Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, and you can use the opportunity to talk about conservation and ocean pollution.

Build them up

Children of all ages learn by doing – so why not use an old familiar to teach them about the world around them? Use Lego or other blocks to teach them about architecture, building stability and surface area. Kids close in age could undertake building challenges like creating the tallest tower. Pique the interest of older kids by trying your hand at technical Lego with moving parts. Use the opportunity to talk to them about mechanics. And besides your end product with the bricks, you also build family rapport, resilience and concentration.

Create a collection

Collections aren’t just for purveyors of fine art and scrapbooks aren’t just for hardcore crafters who roam the aisles of Spotlight. Kids of all ages can have a go and your collections can be as large or small as you like.

Start a scrapbook about the types of leaves you can find in your neighbourhood. Write down interesting facts about the trees – Is the coconut a fruit, seed or a nut? As you walk around collecting leaves, talk to your kids about how trees release oxygen, and about photosynthesis.

If you want to leaf leave that train of thought, why not tailor it to your circumstances – if you’re on a seaside holiday, collect different shells or feathers? Or bust out your old point-and-shoot cameras for the kids to take photos of clouds. Talk about the different formations they see. The possibilities are endless.

Experiment at home

Over school holidays, don’t just give in to the temptation to give kids free rein over screens. Encourage them to get their hands dirty with safe at-home science experiments. We can’t tell you how much we love these kits from Atom & the Dot which provide you with everything you need to learn about a particular theme. Pinterest is also a great source of fun at-home experiments.

If you’ve got older kids, why not introduce them to the weird and wonderful world of MythBusters (yes, we know that technically reverts back to screen time … but it’s educational!) and try some of their tested Do Try This At Home experiments?

 

Science is all around us. From our human bodies – ‘How do our feet support our weight and physical activities like jumping  without breaking?’ – to the plants growing in the garden, there’s so much to marvel at. 

Ultimately, one of the best science teachers your kids could have is you. You don’t have to hold a PhD in microbiology or astronomy to encourage your kids to be curious. Don’t know the answer to a question? Commit to finding out together – that’s what the Internet is for. Thank you, science!

 

By Faye Song

Faye Song is a former journalist now working in marketing and communications. She lives in Darwin, where she enjoys the best of Southeast Asia (the food and night markets) and Australia (the workday that ends punctually at 4.21pm), with her husband, toddler and small dog.