Women have made great gains in STEM careers in the last 50 years. In 1970, the US Census Bureau reported that women made up 38% of the US workforce and held 8% of STEM jobs. As of 2019, women make up almost half the American workforce and hold 27% of STEM occupations. Yet, despite these notable gains, men still dominate the field and make up 73% of all STEM workers. According to the American Association of University Women, “Giving women equal opportunities to pursue — and thrive in — STEM careers helps narrow the gender pay gap, enhances women’s economic security, ensures a diverse and talented STEM workforce and prevents biases in these fields and the products and services they produce.” Not only do women benefit from pursuing STEM careers, but the industry improves with more women.
For educators, keeping girls interested in STEM/STEAM beyond middle school has been a particular challenge, especially during the pandemic when schools and after-school programs transitioned to virtual and remote learning. For example, the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (SBCSS) holds an annual event for middle school girls called Cyber SB to help expand girls’ interest in cybersecurity careers. Unfortunately, they had to cancel their 2020 session due to the pandemic. On March 13, 2021, SBCSS teamed up with the Education Technology at Riverside County Office of Education to host CyberIE Girls, a virtual event with the goal of inspiring young women to experience identity, joy and success with computer science. To support this initiative, Leticia Citizen, co-founder of Tech, Teach, Grow LLC and I facilitated a session on designing 3D Quilts using Tinkercad, a free, online 3D modeling program that runs in a web browser, known for its simplicity and ease of use. Since it became available in 2011, it has become a popular platform for creating models for 3D printing as well as an entry-level introduction to constructive solid geometry in schools. It is also really enjoyable for students to use.
We built our workshop around Ngaskins’ beautifully crafted Instructables Lesson: 3D Quilt Codes & the Tinkercad Cypher. We liked how Ngaskins worked Tinkercad into a culturally responsive lesson using the historical context of Quilting Bees and The Underground Railroad, as well as providing students the opportunity to create a 3D quilt in Tinkercad that reflects their own personality and identity. Social justice and equity are important topics that complement STEAM curriculum. This lesson teaches about the past for better understanding of its implications in the present day.
Our agenda for the session included the following:
We started the session with icebreakers and activities to help create a community with our virtual group. But when Leticia and I introduced ourselves and provided our background, we did not expect the students to ask us questions about our own career journeys and involvement with STEM. This took more time than we allotted, but the conversation was so rich that we did not have the heart to cut them off. These types of conversations are just as fruitful as the lesson for the girls to learn and see themselves in us and feel inspired that they can do whatever they want.
Leticia led a quick lesson on the legend of quilts embedded with codes hanging at safe houses to help direct the enslaved person on the run to safety and warn them of impending dangers. The Nearpod lesson included primary sources and activities for review, annotation and reflection.
Students were then invited to reflect on their personal identity and list a symbol that represents the following items:
Using the sticky note tool in Jamboard, students answered each prompt. Once they had an idea of what symbols they wanted to use, Leticia demonstrated how to draw their symbols in Google Drawings using the scribble tool and basic shapes.
I then showed them how to create their Tinkercad account using their Google email address. We included all the links and materials students needed for the workshop as well as supplementary material for the girls to check out on their own time. Most of the articles for the Underground Railroad Quilt Codes we listed came from Ngaskins’ lesson plan.
One important component to Ngaskins’ lesson that we were not able to fit in was the cyphering piece, in which students would share and collaborate their 3D quilts with their peers, calling back to the community aspect of quilt building and as Ngaskins describes, “kinship building practices that are derived from personal or group conceptions of identity, community and (usually) anti-corporate cultures.”
Special thanks to Leticia Citizen for inviting me to co-lead this workshop. Leticia is a global presenter and dedicated i4Coach at Hawthorne School, Beverly Hills USD. You can find her on Twitter at @citicoach or her website, citicoach.weebly.com. She is also the cofounder of Equity in Action CA and Tech.Teach.Grow, LLC.
This lesson can also be altered to promote STEAM education with Dremel. The 3D quilts can be printed using the Dremel 3D40 and 3D45. Additionally, this lesson works well in Google
Workspace for Education and can be delivered via Google Meet, where the teacher can take advantage of the polling tools and breakout rooms to encourage live collaboration and discussion. Using Google classroom or Google Assignments, a teacher can break the lesson down into smaller assignments.
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