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Build your own: DIY and STEM meet up in 'maker' type of playtime

Published: Thursday, June 12 2014 9:30 a.m. MDT

Girls exposed to making at age 8 are very open, as Brooks was. In middle school, they become self-conscious while boys become more bold and aggressive. That's why some maker programs for those ages are gender-specific.

"If girls have no interest in electronics, if that's the kind of maker they are, I am totally OK with that," Cook said. "I think it's important they be exposed to (more technical making), even if they are just in the same room with someone soldering. If they know they have the option, they make the choice."

Cook cares less about what children — even her own — grow up to be, and more about helping them fulfill their own vision. She wants them to be happy.

When Brooks and Chen met at Stanford, there weren't many females in the graduate engineering program. They found each other and realized they had a shared interest in creating toys that would promote the kind of capability and imagination Brooks had developed with her tools and Chen had found making complicated Lego structures with her brother.

They came up with Roominate, a building kit that lets kids decide what to make using any or all of the pieces, including a working fan. What becomes a house in one child's hand might be a bowling alley in another's.

Rast notes most kids know whether they'll pursue a technical career by about middle school: "There's something that clicks in those years; self-perception is a huge part of it," she said.

Americans are running a deficit in terms of young employees growing up interested in robotics, manufacturing, aerospace and other "maker" fields. We import workers, Rast said.

"If we can target students and get them to perceive themselves as being capable in things related to engineering, development, etc., they will be far more likely to pursue those things when they're older," Rast said. "And we as a country will be more likely to have enough homegrown workers."

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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