Reimagine Learning

Creating Future Rock Stars: Inclusion, STEM, and Games

Women, a little while ago, I found myself feeling a bit like a high-schooler who has just spied a favorite lead singer at a concert…except instead of a concert I was in the executive offices of the White House. During our meeting on educational technology, I thought I caught a glimpse of someone really incredible in the hallway just outside the door.

“Was that Megan Smith?! She is a rock star!!!!!” I whispered. Indeed it was. The Chief Technology Officer of the United States and previous VP of Google was right in the hallway, waiting to talk to our group about inclusion as well as game-based assessment. I was over the moon – this remarkable woman has helped transform the world of technology, while also supporting the inclusion of women in minorities in both education and the workplace.

This topic, inclusion, was one of the themes of her discussion with our group. Referencing Grace Hopper, one of the first American computer scientists and inventor of the first programming compiler, Ms. Smith reminded us of the great potential talent in STEM among our women, and minority groups. She asked us to focus our efforts on repairing the wide representation gap between these groups and majority groups in the STEM fields. The under-representation problem has persisted for far too long, and Ms. Smith suggested that educational games and access to low-cost maker technology such as Raspberry Pi offer partial solutions to this complex problem.

I just about wanted to jump out of my seat. Absolutely! Ms. Smith, you are right on the money. When we first started designing our Martha Madison games, we had the same thought, and our forward-thinking advocates in the National Science Foundation and Department of Education agreed. What if a game could help bridge the gap, and make STEM accessible, interesting, and fun for kids from all demographic groups? This question has influenced every step of our design process.

In our research and playtesting, we’re seeing that a game can do all of these things, while still serving students’ learning and assessment needs. We have witnessed countless students tell us they are not interested in STEM on our surveys, and then change their minds after a single session playing the game. We have members of the most at-risk demographic groups in our country, start talking about themselves as scientists and engineers…because in the game, that is exactly what they are.

Games allow learners to set aside their current roles and take on new ones. Games let learners explore STEM in a safe space, where science isn’t tied to test scores and math is a means to an end. Inside a game, the barriers that can be imposed by race, gender, or disabilities are removed, allowing players to focus on problem-solving, collaboration, play, and creation. We believe that games can even start the Megan Smiths of the future on their paths to success.

We aren’t alone in our belief. Standing on the steps of the Eisenhower Building with other pioneering women in this field, all people who themselves have bridged the gap, it is clear that we are beginning to realize Ms. Smith’s vision of a more equitable technological landscape.