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Smart Buddies™ are a wise choice

Girls and children of color see themselves in STEM careers thanks to diverse figures

Published August 30, 2019
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Additional Equity in Coding article:

By Stephan Turnipseed

Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer

I love demographics. It is such a wonderful science based in the simple fact that if you are 25 today, in 10 years you will be 35. It has such an elegant simplicity in both its approach and its predictably accurate portrayal of the future. One such outcome of this straightforward science is that the future of any country’s population can be seen in its children. In the US, our future is accurately portrayed in the fact that we are becoming a country with no true racial majority. That means we need to face directly the issue of equity in what has traditionally been a white majority country.

Before we go any further, I am not going into any of the political rhetoric around equity and racism, so you can sit back and relax. Rather, the elegant simplicity of demographics leads us to the conclusion that, given the projected growth in STEM jobs, if we do not change the primarily white, male face of these fields, we will not have enough people to fill the positions.

Coding and STEM give us unique opportunities to address these needs through creating experiences for children, engaging them in STEM learning in an equitable environment promoting understanding of diversity and cooperation among sexes, races, and cultures. This is most effectively accomplished through hands-on activities, stories, and play, which include diverse characters and culturally sensitive instruction.

Our latest offering to address this need is Smart Buddies™. Built around the natural play patterns of girls, Smart Buddies leaves behind the prevailing industry notion that product built around boy play patterns (tanks, cars, and speed) with neutral colors is equally appealing to girls and multiple racial cultures. Research tells us this notion is not true, and demographics shows us it is not true when we look at the participation of women and people of color in the coding and STEM fields. The advantage of girl play patterns comes in the non-confrontational characteristics of the Smart Buddy vehicles and the stories that engage and come alive for the children as they immerse themselves in their characters.

In this new approach, Smart Buddies addresses head-on the wonderful synergy that occurs when mixed sexes, races, and ethnicity learn respect, problem-solving, and conflict resolution in a fun and engaging manner. Designed for Grades 3-5, Smart Buddies allows children to question, and under guidance of their teacher, deal with racism, culture, and conflict resolution in a safe and playful environment. More importantly, it allows girls and children of color to see themselves in STEM careers through the eyes of diverse figures that look like them, riding self-balancing robots called Siggys. The stories and coding challenges solved by the children in a playful, collaborative, creative, problem-solving activity lead to the aha moments we all treasure. Through the challenges they solve, children learn the important soft and hard skills needed to be the workforce and citizens of the future.

The male and female figures appear in the four most numerous races in America (white, black or African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian) and deal with a multitude of challenges that are both engaging and believable.

We see possible stories such as Zara, an African American girl who is a computer genius, teaming up with Lee, an Asian boy who dreams of becoming a creative graphic artist, to plot a course to deliver a computer antivirus to multiple locations in Zara’s town. We see Sebastian, a Hispanic boy who dreams of designing computer video games, teaming up with Jen, a white girl who is an inventor and tinkerer aiming to become a mechanical engineer, to collaborate on coding a treasure hunt to use in a new phone game.

Throughout each story, we see new children introduced with different ethnicities and races as well as special needs children and children with disabilities.

There is great truth in the idea that children can never be what they cannot see. With Smart Buddies, we navigate the color and sex boundaries through coding and STEM experiences. These experiences add depth and meaning for children throughout each day and for the rest of their lives.

“I would never be interested in going back. This is too good of a system. Everybody needs this system. This is how they need to test children: don’t give them a paper and pencil; give them a lab activity and see what they can do.”

– Cathy Johnson, STREAM Missions facilitator, Elmore City-Pernell Elementary School, Elmore City, Oklahoma

We enable young learners to develop the mind-set, skill set, and tool set needed for future success.

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