Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Thrill-seeker Barbie" teaches girls engineering and mathematics

Thrill-seeker Barbie!

Death-defying Barbie!

Adrenaline-rush Barbie!

They sound so much more fun than “Engineering-mathematics Barbie” don’t they?

And that is the hidden intent of the Girls, Inc. Eureka! Teen Achievement Program. Surprise! You just had fun learning science, technology, engineering and math!

Girls Inc. and the UAB School of Engineering have brought Eureka! back to UAB’s campus for the first time in three years. The two-week summer camp is for 8th and 9th grade girls from Birmingham and Jefferson County who want to explore careers in these areas.

The current lesson is linear regression. Wait – did we just hear you groan? So did the kids! That is why the lesson is not actually called linear regression. It is called Barbie bungee jumping.

The goal is to see how close they can get “Bungee Barbie” to the floor without knocking her head off. The girls’ task is to predict how many rubber bands Barbie needs to safely bungee one flight of stairs. They conduct an experiment, collect data and use the data to make their prediction. Then they throw Barbie over the edge. If she hits the floor they collect more data, make more adjustments and try again. They are learning the essence of engineering.

Eureka! began on the campus of UAB in 1993. It is a balance between the mind (mornings are hands-on experiences) and the body (afternoons are health activities). The girls learn about different career opportunities and meet quality female role models.

This is a good point to mention there is most definitely irony in the fact that Girls Inc., a program that sets high expectations for young women, uses the often criticized Barbie dolls to teach a lesson. Then again, they are not asking the girls to emulate Barbie; they are asking the girls to throw her head first down a stairwell.

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