I’ve just had a brilliant time at Maker Faire at the Centre for Life. The challenge I set visitors was to build their own bridge for my mock-up of the Tyne (some MDF with a painted river). I’ve never run a Lego event before, so didn’t know what to expect, but the range of structures that were created by young and old, girls and boys, really were impressive.
The challenge involved building something high enough to allow a little Lego boat to pass underneath, or move in some way – like some of our Tyne bridges do – to allow passage. It had to be strong enough to take the weight of a Lego car, or just a mini-figure if it was a footbridge.
Other than that, there were no instructions or limitations. We had swinging bridges, lifting bridges, and even a rolling bridge. We had beautiful structures with careful detailing that visitors spent an hour or two on, and we had 5 minute wonders. We had a 3 year old proud as punch to put a few Lego pieces together that spanned the river, and many 40-ish dads (yes, most of the ‘mature’ builders were men) who lost themselves (and sometimes their kids) as they searched for just the right pieces for their marvel of engineering. We had kids and parents working together, and friends teaming up on joint projects. We had some off-piste work, including a space prison and a football pitch (though that did end up being a bridge – what a great idea, a football pitch over a river!). There were two kids from other stalls who were there most of the time filming stop-motion videos on their phones using the bridges, vehicles and mini-figures.
I didn’t really need any persuading of this, but Lego really is a great toy! Anyone from 3 to 103 could join in, because clipping pieces of Lego together is so intuitive. We all know how Lego works, and even if you’ve somehow never seen it before you can understand the principle of it in seconds.
One of the main things that I was interested to see were gender differences. The youngest kids were evenly mixed – as many girls as boys in the under 10 bracket I’d say. By teenage years, it was more boys. By 20s it was mostly men, and those with kids who joined in building bridges were practically all men.
Where does that interest go? What can we do to encourage girls with an interest in engineering and construction to keep on going? What can we do as parents and teachers and friends to stop girls coming to the conclusion that engineering is just for boys? Because it isn’t. There is evidence, however, that innate differences are more likely to make engineering appeal to boys, but the problem in our society is that a tendency gets magnified into a polarisation. We like easily classifiable groups, and messy overlaps aren’t as intuitively appealing. Take two groups with marginally different opinions and leave them to discuss a topic and they often go to extremes that neither group really held to begin with. We need to be able to recognise this and not mistake any genuine difference between girls and boys for that which is amplified by society. Other studies have shown that mixed groups are often better at solving problems that either all female or all male. More women engineers might not just be good in some feminist / politically correct way, it may well actually make for a better built environment.
Steve | Steve Mayes Photography