Transcript

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Translator: Patrícia Imada Reviewer: ali alshalali
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Hello everyone.
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I had an older sister
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who always wanted to be a teacher
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from probably the moment she was born.
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And from the time I could talk,
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we got to play any game I wanted
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as long as it was school.
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And as long as she got to be the teacher.
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I was never allowed to be the teacher.
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She was three years older than me
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and when I started school, then,
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I was way ahead of all the other kids.
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I always excelled at school,
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every subject was easy for me,
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math: not a problem,
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science: not a problem,
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English, foreign language, band,
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everything was very easy.
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I left Secondary school
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and I rolled in the University
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and majoring in Civil Engineering.
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I had no doubt I would be able to do it.
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I had my first quarter,
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took Calculus, Chemistry, English,
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all those subjects,
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straight As again, no problem, very easy.
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My second quarter I took a course,
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my very first “engineering course”
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and it was called Engineering Graphics.
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And for the first time in my life,
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I had no idea what was going on.
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I was struggling.
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I had no idea how to solve the problems,
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and what the teacher was talking about,
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and what made it worse for me
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is that all my friends,
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they said this was the easiest class they’ve had all year.
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And I couldn’t do it,
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and I nearly left Engineering because of that.
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But I stuck with it and eventually,
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I got a PhD in Mechanical Engineering,
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and I started looking into what had happened to me
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and I partnered with some people,
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and I’m going to tell you about that later.
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But first I’m going to go through some things
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that we know about Engineering
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that many of you who don’t have an Engineering background
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might not understand.
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Firstly a lack of diversity often means
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lower or a lack of creativity.
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Engineers always work on teams,
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and what they found is that
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if you have a very homogeneous group,
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they all think alike,
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they all come up with the same ideas,
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and they don’t understand,
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for example,
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if you have young people designing for old people,
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that they have different needs.
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or if you have men designing for women,
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that their needs are different.
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So some of the more famous or infamous examples are
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many of them are in the automotive industry.
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Where they have airbags
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that are perfectly fine for average male,
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but they can injure a woman or a child
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who’s smaller.
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You have a tailgate on a minivan
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that the average woman can’t pull down.
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A lot of things that happen,
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it’s not that they’re not creative,
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it’s just not creative as they can be.
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So we really need to have diversity,
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in order to have creative solutions.
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But this is the big problem.
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Engineering is very non diverse.
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In the U.S
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and elsewhere around the world,
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about 10% of engineers are women.
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For underrepresented minorities in U.S, it’s even less.
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So here we have this problem, right?
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Where we need creative solutions,
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we have big problems in our societies today,
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and we don’t have enough women
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who are in Engineering.
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Now, one other thing is that
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engineering careers require
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high levels of 3D spatial ability.
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And so when I was struggling in my class,
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as a first year engineering student,
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my problem was really that I had
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poorly developed spatial skills.
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Not that I couldn’t do the Engineering.
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So if you think about engineers,
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they have to think about how things fit together,
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how things work together,
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how the docks and the pipes, and the wires
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are going through buildings.
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It’s a very spatially demanding field.
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This is a test given to students
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to determine their spatial ability levels.
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it’s called the testamental rotation,
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and you have an object on the top line,
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it’s rotated in space
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as you move from left to right.
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There’s a second object on the second line,
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and you have to say
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“Okay, if I rotate this by the exact same amount
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what would it look like?”
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For those who don’t know the answer, the answer is D.
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The next problem is that the 3D spatial skills of women
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lag significantly behind those of men,
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So this is data
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that I’ve gathered over the past 15 years.
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And you can see
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that women are always behind the men
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in terms of their 3D spatial skills.
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And this is across the world.
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So it’s not just me,
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I’ve worked with people in Germany,
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Poland,
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Japan,
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Ireland.
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I find weak spatial skills among the women
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almost always.
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In fact, on this test that we give them,
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about 30% of the women fail that test
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when they start their Engineering course,
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but only 10% of the men fail that test.
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So women are three times more likely
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to have problems with 3D spatial skills
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when compared to men.
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But the one thing that I want to say is
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nobody really knows
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why women have weaker spatial skills.
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And it doesn’t really matter
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because spatial skills can be learned.
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A lot of people think that this is a fixed quantity
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you can either read a map
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or you can’t read a map,
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and you can never learn how to read a map
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if you weren’t born with it.
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But I want to say from my own experience,
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as a learner, as well as a teacher,
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spatial skills definitely can be learned.
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So what did we do?
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Well, about twenty years ago
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we developed a course
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aimed at first year Engineering students
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to help them learn to visualize.
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And I got into this obviously
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because I had had my own troubles
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with spatial skills.
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I was eventually
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teaching Engineering graphics
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and I found that there was always
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kind of this core group of students
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who struggle with their spatial skills.
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Or struggled with that particular course,
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and predominantly it was women.
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So we started a course,
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the course has been offered many times.
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I tell people all the time,
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it’s not really rocket science,
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it takes about 15-20 hours of instruction
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so it’s not overly difficult.
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But what did we find then?
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Well, the first thing is that we improve people’s spatial skills,
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which is good.
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If you’re going to develop a course
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designed to help you improve your spatial skills,
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you actually want to have them improve their spatial skills
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at the end of the day.
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This shows six years worth of data,
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I could show you twenty years worth of data
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it’s about the same.
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Students in the class
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start at about 50% on this test
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and they end up at about 80%.
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And what’s interesting
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is that the 80%, that’s about where the first year Engineering students
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as a whole start out.
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So these people are starting out way behind
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and they end up
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at about where everybody else is.
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Great, we improve their spatial skills, what else?
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Well, we improved also their grades
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in a lot of their STEM courses.
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So here you can see they’re earning about
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a half of a letter grade better by going through
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the spatial skills training.
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And not just in their Engineering graphics course,
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but also in their Calculus course,
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Chemistry a little bit,
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Physics and Computer Science.
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So all these fields,
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all these science and engineering fields
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are high spatial fields.
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And by improving a student’s spatial skills,
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we then improve their success in their course.
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We also looked at overall success.
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This graph shows
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the graduation rates for students
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who come to the University,
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and they initially have good spatial skills.
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So you can see that for the women,
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they’re graduating from Engineering
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at about a 70% chance
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and the men at about a 60% chance.
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So this shows you I think, the importance of spatial skills
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for success in Engineering.
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But what happens to the people who come
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with poor spatial skills?
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We see a big drop off for the women, right?
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So instead of 70% of them graduating,
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we have now less than 50%, it’s about 47%.
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The men drop off as well,
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not by as much,
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the drop off is really dramatic for the women.
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Personally for me,
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if we’re trying to get more women to go into engineering
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we should try really hard to keep the ones there
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who say they want to do it.
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So what happens now if we take students
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who have initially weak spatial skills
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and we give them just this little bit of training?
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Well, now the women are graduating
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not only at a higher rate
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than the people who have poor spatial skills,
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but now they’re graduating
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at a higher rate than the people
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who started out with good spatial skills.
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So the women went up to about 77%
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compared to 70% graduation.
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The men, basically
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they went back up to where they had been
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if you have good spatial skills,
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but that’s good too.
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We need more men in Engineering,
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as well as women.
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I’ve always said
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that I want to make the need
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for my course to go away.
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What that means is
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I want every child to come to the University
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with well developed spatial skills,
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so they can be successful in the science,
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engineering and math fields.
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So what can you all do?
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I assume you have children, grandchildren,
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nieces, nephews, friends,
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somebody in your life
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that you would want to encourage to go
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into engineering or science or math.
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What can you do
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to help them develop their spatial skills?
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Well, the first thing is LEGOs.
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And I don’t own stock in LEGO,
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so I’m not profiting from this.
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But, really, if you have a picture of something
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that you’re supposed to be building,
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and you give your child
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some LEGO bricks and they can build it.
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That’s the first step on an engineering
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or science path.
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Now, unfortunately,
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many of the LEGO kits
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don’t always appeal to the young girls.
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So there’s a new product in town,
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and again I don’t own stock in this
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but it’s called Goldieblox.
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(Laughter)
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And it’s supposed to be kind of a LEGOs
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but more aimed at the kind of things
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that young girls like to do.
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So LEGOs, Goldieblox, what else can you do?
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Maps, not GPS.
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So when you take that family vacation,
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instead of relying just on the GPS,
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give your child a map and say
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help me plan the route,
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and have them learn about the relationship between
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what is on that piece of paper
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and the space around them.
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There was a study that showed
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that because we’re using GPS right now,
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we’re actually losing
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some of the spatial skills as a society.
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IKEA.
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Again, I don’t own stock in this company.
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We’ve all purchased furniture,
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it comes in a box,
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and we take out all the parts,
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and there’s a picture,
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and we have to put it together.
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A bookshef, a chair, a footstool, a table.
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Have your daughter help you put that together.
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If she can figure out
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how the parts fit together,
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where those screws go in those holes,
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she’ll be better off and she’ll probably
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be developing her spatial skills as a result.
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Sketch real-life objects,
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don’t just doodle,
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don’t just draw funny things.
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Sketch real life things,
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and then turn them over
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at a different vantage point
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and have you daughter scetch it from that new vantage point.
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So sketching is one of the things we found
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very important for developing spatial skills.
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Finally, 3D computer games.
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Now, I know that you probably, as a parent,
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don’t want to tell your child,
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“No dessert for you unless you do 20 minutes
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on your computer game tonight”.
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Because that doesn’t sound
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like a good parenting technique.
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But 3D computer games have been shown
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to help develop 3D spatial skills.
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Now,
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2D computer games are not helpful at all,
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so you don’t get credit for doing Angry Birds,
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but if you can get your child
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to do 3D computer games,
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that’s great and will help him or her
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develop their spatial skills.
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Same thing with LEGOs, though.
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There’s not a lot of games
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that appeal to young women
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so you really have to look,
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to try to find the ones that will appeal
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to the young women in your life.
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And that’s really all I had to say.
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I want to thank you for your kind attention.
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(Applause)

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