By the beginning of last week, my inbox was full of emails from friends, classmates, and readers about this Kickstarter link I just had to check out. A wonderful new engineering toy for girls? Nah. The Lego Friends have really dampened my enthusiasm for girl-geared spatial toys. But, killing time before a lab meeting, I opened up the webpage and watched the video and…it was awesome. I was wrong. Debbie Sterling, the Goldie Blox developer, understands both the dearth of toys marketed to girls as well as the fundamental problems girls face beginning at a young age in play and continuing through adulthood which prevent them from ending up as engineers (or physicists, or chemists, or…). It is a lifelong process of shaping both interests and skills that excludes girls and women and maintains a gender imbalance in engineering to the tune of 89 men for 11 women in the case of engineering.
Research shows that spatial skills and success in STEM are highly correlated. More than that, spatial skills are malleable. They can be taught. Sterling created a toy to grab girls at an early age and teach spatial skills. Armed with those spatial skills, girls might not be so excluded. And, with those skills, girls might be more interested in the kinds of subjects which require them, subjects like math and science. Keeping girls interested in math and science courses over time can keep them in those fields generally. Keeping girls in those fields could funnel more girls into STEM careers in adulthood. Ok, sure, it’s a big leap from saying that playing with Goldie Blox today will make girls engineers in 20 years, but Sterling has addressed a fundamental problem in the pipeline to STEM careers – exclusion of girls and women that begins in childhood when girls fail to develop interest or skills from the toys they play with – by creating a toy intended to do just that.
Goldie Blox is a building set paired with a narrative book (available in physical and e-book formats). Reading along with the book, children build structures or machines to solve the problems which arise in the book for Goldie and her friends. The set offers the chance to build sophisticated structures which include pulleys and moving parts – likely more interesting and instructive than static structures, the typical modality in most construction sets. The narrative keeps the building purposeful and guided. I actually think that this sort of narrated building could appeal to boys and girls. Boys are not the target audience here, but Sterling has created something which goes above and beyond existing toys in more than one way. It fills the gap in terms of toys for girls, but it also attempts to target sophisticated spatial thinking and building with the focus on pulleys and axles in a way that traditional construction toys like legos do not.
Goldie Blox is down to 9 days of fundraising on Kickstarter. Pledges of $30 will receive the toy when it is released. Release is set for February 2013, and at that time Goldie Blox will retail for $29.99. For its creative solution to an important and deep-seated problem, Fair Play gives Goldie Blox 5 pinwheels.
Although this review was written with additional information about Goldie Blox and all photographs provided by Sydney Malawer, all opinions in this review are that of Fair Play.