I met Debbie Sterling at MakerFaire last weekend, where she was demoing Goldieblox her fantastic line of engineering/construction toys aimed at young girls.
As Annika’s Dad, I’m excited by the toy and how it connects the engineering skills to the storytelling experience that is so central to all of Annika’s play. What makes it “for girls” isn’t an avalanche of pink, but the narrative that propels these characters to build tools and reach their goals. I have decades of deeply conflicted thoughts about essentialized gender identity (hello Santa Cruz!), but I can say with confidence that my daughter engages with the world primarily through narrative, and she has no interest in building “stuff” without a clear story hook.
At the Faire, Debbie had both her final prototype and several older models on display. One major difference between these two sets triggered my math nerd response.
The older version used standard pegboard with the holes laid out on a rectangular grid, like a geoboard or standard dot paper. Her final model used an offset grid, what I think of as “hexagon” or isometric dot paper. When I asked her about this difference she broke into a huge smile and told a fascinating story about her play testing experience with young children.
The audio shows my distinctly amatuer recording skills, but I’m incredibly grateful to Debbie. I also refer to isometric dot paper as “isomorphic,” becuase I’m a complete goof.
At the end of the book, Goldie makes a star out of the ribbon drive. As any GeoBoard loving math teacher knows knows, you can’t make a clean symmetric star on a rectangular grid. In playtesting, Debbie learned that this lack of symmetry drives young girls crazy! Debbie found that their negative experience was strong enough to sour them on Goldieblox as a whole, so she redesigned the entire project around an offset grid. The new design yields wonderful, fully symmetric, 5 pointed star shapes. What a wonderful reminder how much aesthetics matter, even in engineering!
I backed Goldieblox earlier this week, and Annika is already asking when the “ribbon dolls” will arrive. By the time she’s 10, my sense is that half of her favorite toys will be Kicstarted projects. I can’t wait to see what happens whenthe generation raised on crowdfunded individual creations realizes that they have access to the same tools.