Robotics again

VEX Team 2700A from The Baldwin School
VEX Team 2700A from The Baldwin School (Photo credit: lorda)

Long time readers know of my conflicted feelings about robotics programs.  The jury is out on whether they attract students to computer science and/or engineering.  I’ve even tried to find research to support this one way or another, but so far no luck.  We had our first robotics competition this weekend.  It’s a long day.  We left school at 7:30 and arrived back again at 6:30.  Yes, that’s 11 hours.  But I actually like the competitions in many ways.  It’s a culmination of all that we’ve worked on.  Unfortunately, it’s also where it shows who is dedicating more time or money.

Robotics competes with other activities for time.  We hold it during the club period, 40 minutes twice a week.  Other schools will meet after school for a couple of hours and even on the weekends.  Our students have sports, piano lessons, and volunteer activities after school and on the weekends.  The way robotics is set up almost requires you to dedicate a huge amount of time to it.  There’s no room for dabbling, first-timers, or those just trying it out.

The girls had fun.  They learned a lot.  They got to talk to boys.  I did overhear a parent, a dad, say, “Girls interested in robotics? That’s who our boys should be dating.” Yes, I wanted to puke a little.  Part of me wishes we were a little better at this, so that we could show up the boys.  We do have a team that could do that, but they weren’t able to be at this competition.  Maybe next time.

I will continue to support my girls doing robotics because I think they approach it with the right attitude.  They’re interested in learning something challenging.  It’s fun.  And if they win, that’s just gravy.  I enjoyed being with them on Saturday.  They worked well together and rose to some significant challenges.  Will any of them go on to be engineers or computer scientists? Does it matter? Maybe not.

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5 Replies to “Robotics again”

  1. I’m mainly a lurker here, but have $0.02 to share as a female CS PhD (and mom elementary/preschool age kids).

    I think that while these clubs might not directly impact the girls that participate in the near term, the rise of girls’ robotics teams and increased balance of genders at robotics competitions will have a huge impact on both (1) girls who see both girls and boys at these events and realize that girls CAN participate, even if they don’t choose it (2) the boy participants, who will learn early on that CS/tech is not just for boys any more. I’m extremely optimistic about (2) as it would be nice if the next generation of tech companies lose the boys club/macho feel!

    So keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Sara,

    Your reasoning is the main reason I keep going. I don’t think it does anyone any good to take the ball and go home, so to speak.


  3. “Will any of them go on to be engineers or computer scientists? Does it matter? Maybe not.”

    Well, it matters to those of us who teach engineering at the university level. Most of my classes have only one or two women (out of 15–20). This quarter I’m teaching a freshman class that is majority women! I hope that I can do a good enough job to keep them all in an engineering degree program.

  4. Good to know! I know the exposure to such things often makes it less intimidating to sign up for an Engineering or CS class in college, so I hope there’s at least that. And, after I wrote this post, the girls have been in my classroom every spare moment redesigning and rebuilding their robot so it will perform better. And that’s a good thing in my mind.

  5. Hi Laura,

    Like you, I am a geeky mom of two kids, son (13) and daughter (8 going on 13) and living in the Philly burbs. I was at the FLL Robotics competition on Saturday cheering on my son’s team. I hope you and your team of girls enjoyed the day. My son’s team was mostly boys and three girls. However, his middle school formed 3 teams almost evenly split between the genders. I believe participation in FLL Robotics and research competitions helps both boys and girls develop necessary research & presentation skills, and also open their minds to possible future opportunities in Science, math and engineering.

    I found your blog through EduCon by chance from a co-worker’s link to SLA. I’m looking for a STEM high school for my son who’s about to embark on his high school career next Fall. This leads me to two questions for you:
    1. Do you have any recommendations for specialized high schools in the Philly area for teens who excel in math, science and have interests in computers and technology?
    2. For myself, I would love to get out of technical support & teach these same skills to high school age youth. Would you suggest that I get a teaching certificate or specialize in Educational Technology?
    Please respond via email at

    I would love to meet you & chat sometime.
    Good luck with your classes!


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