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