We are offering workshops for girls to learn
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts and how to apply them in our daily lives.

Check out this article about STEM Day for Girls at BrickSpace.

‘STEM Day’ for girls is more than play

-By Benicia Herald

Two women decided a day of workshops could encourage local grade school girls to consider further studies, even careers, in science engineering, technology and mathematics.

Within a day, the “STEM Day for Girls,” which takes place Saturday, sold out.

That means Fary Koh, owner of BrickSpace, a LEGO learning center, and Natalie Kidder, the Benicia-Vallejo American Association of University Women Tech Trek coordinator, will be welcoming 40 second to sixth grade girls who will tackle three challenges.

In one, the girls will learn about robotics and computer programming by creating a couple of robot birds they will hook up to a laptop computer they’ll program so the little robots can move, spin and make noises.
“You will build it, and you will give it life,” Koh said she will tell the girls.

Another task will be to build a 12 inch bridge across an eight-inch gap, then test to see how much weight that bridge can hold, she said.

The girls will learn about the various bridge types, just like the ones they see in the Bay Area – the Golden Gate, the Bay, the Carquinez and the Benicia-Martinez bridges.

The girls’ bridge must be able to hold at least a pound, but she said the girls may have been such successful engineers and construction workers that their bridge might hold as much as 20 pounds.

Or, the bridge could fall. “Then they’ll go back to the drawing board and re-test,” she said. “That’s what engineers do.”

Their third learning opportunity will be to design and build a wind turbine out of boxes and other things in the BrickSpace building, “any material we have,” Koh said.

While they’re at work, the girls will learn about alternative energy sources, not only wind, but also solar and water power.

But they’ll also hear how there are consequences associated with each, Koh said. The girls will hear how wind turbines kill birds and use up land that may have been wildlife habitat.

While alternative energy sources are important, Koh said.

“You have to be kind to the environment. You can’t just build,” she said. “What are the positives, and how does this affect the animals and the environment?” The girls will be challenged to respond to the dilemma.
The girls will meet women whose careers involve math, science, engineering and technology, Koh said.

Antonia Becker is a California scientist who investigates the disposal of hazardous material. She also has been focusing on lead, especially when it is found in jewelry or other items meant for children.

“She’ll bring her X-ray gun and show what she does,” Koh said. The girls will learn how lead in jewelry can contaminate a child, making the young person sick, especially if the item has been put into their mouths.
During the girls’ lunch break, they’ll get to speak with engineers, scientists and architects, who will describe their careers and what the girls may need to do in order to succeed in those fields themselves.

The Vallejo-Benicia AAUW has been involved in encouraging students to explore careers in science, engineering, technology and mathematics, often called “STEM” for each of those disciplines, Koh said.

It’s the local chapter of an organization that was founded in 1881 to help college alumni encourage other women to seek higher education and degrees.

The Benicia-Vallejo branch was started in 1976, and has become one of the fastest growing of AAUW branches.
The club raises money to send seventh grade girls to math and science camps, works with the Benicia League of Women Voters on free forums during elections, and provides gifts to those in a local women’s shelter.

The organization has had workshops at Sonoma State University, for instance. But Koh suggested the local STEM Day for Girls at her company. “It’s dear to my heart,” she said. “It’s an awesome experience. There’s definitely a need.”

At one time, Kohn worked for the University of California, managing academic support services at its Berkeley and Davis campuses. She helped new freshmen who were entering the university system for the first time.

But after she had her son, she had a conflict, when she couldn’t find the type of day care she wanted. Her husband urged her to leave her university work and start Kidspace, an after-school and summer enrichment program.

For about a dozen years, she operated that program, collecting lots of LEGO building block toys along the way.
When her children outgrew her program, she decided to do something new, and started BrickSpace, which she describes as a LEGO learning center. She took all those little snap-together bricks and used them to create an opportunity for children to learn about construction, science, math and other principles, one little piece at a time.

“They’re not just playing,” she said. “I did my research.”

Children learn about chemistry, architecture, mathematics, history and engineering as they assemble structures.
“There’s always a lesson,” she said, whether it’s about potential energy, the laws of motions or the Egyptian pyramids.

“How did they move stones the size of refrigerators to the top of the pyramids? They have to figure that out,” Koh said.

She works with LEGO clubs at Benicia schools, and said parents often are surprised to discover that girls like to build things – it’s not just for boys.

Those who participated in the Benicia Relay for Life got a taste of what happens at BrickSpace. Koh set up a table there. While parents may have asked, “Where’s the princess stuff?” the youngsters – both boys and girls – started making things from the little pieces of plastic.

“If you’re not buying for girls, and they’re not exposed, they’re not as comfortable,” Koh explained. “But if they are using pink and purple bricks to build a sturdy wall, why not!” She said girls enjoy learning how to overlap bricks so their walls have strength, and then how to attach the walls so they don’t fall.

Because this first STEM Day for Girls is a collaboration with AAUW, the cost to the girls was $10 for the workshops and lunch. And Koh hopes this won’t be the only such event.

“Yes, I hope we can do it again,” she said.

STEM Day for Girls takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at BrickSpace, 946 Tyler St., Suite H. Those interested in BrickSpace may view the website www.brickspacebenicia.net. Those interested in the Benicia-Vallejo American Association of University Women can visit the website beniciavallejo-ca.aauw.net.