GoldieBlox: Engineering toys for girls


GoldieBlox is an engineering toy developed for girls by Debbie Sterling. Kept in “girlish” colors and materials, it comes with a storybook telling of heroine Goldie and her friends, and how Goldie gets them through their adventures by engineering solutions. The story is accompanied by a platform where the children can reconstruct her building designs.  Debbie Sterling explains her motives in developing this toy on www.goldieblox.com:

“Engineers are solving some of the biggest challenges our society faces. They are critical to the world economy, earn higher salaries and have greater job security. And they are 89% male. We believe engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective. GoldieBlox is here to bring the female voice into engineering.”

She has raised the necessary capital to take this toy into production through a funding platform called Kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/, which since its launch in 2009 has funded over 30,000 creative projects. Her highly successful pitch? “Our girls need Goldie“. And the great marketing videos starring her “development team” (average age about 5) show that she is just the type of role model a modern girl needs, and really understands her target market. The first of a series of GoldieBlox sets is currently in the pipeline, with several others now lined up to follow.

Here, for reference, is Debbie Sterling’s blurb on Kickstarter:

Debbie is the creative force behind GoldieBlox. She studied engineering at Stanford (Product Design, ’05) and has made it her mission in life to tackle the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math.
Debbie writes and illustrates Goldie’s stories, taking inspiration from her grandmother, one of the first female cartoonists and creator of “Mr. Magoo”.
Prior to founding GoldieBlox, Debbie served as the Marketing Director of Lori Bonn, a national jewelry company. There, she learned the ins and outs of bringing a product to market: from overseas manufacturing to sales/marketing to product fulfillment.
For the past 7 years, Debbie has also served as a brand strategy consultant for a wide variety of organizations including Microsoft, T-Mobile, Organic Valley and the New York Knicks. She gets the power of branding, every step of the way.
Debbie got her first taste of social impact work in 2008, when she spent 6 months volunteering at a grassroots nonprofit in rural India. This experience helped pave the way to finding her true passion: inspiring the next generation of female engineers.
goldieblox.com

Toy dealers here in Germany should sit up and notice. Germany prides itself as the land of engineers and toy design, but not since Playmobil in the 70s has anyone come up with anything with this kind of potential. And even Playmobil doesn’t require much in the way of building skills or imagination. Lego is still the king of building tools, but most of their toys relating to engineering seem to be made for boys. There is nothing really creative in their current product line to excite a girl.

GoldieBlox should be great for children, boys or girls, who want to learn English. The combination of listening to a story being read out and then being able to work hands-on is ideal. I’ve ordered a few sets, but of course ordering individual sets is not economical.

Debbie Sterling’s pitch at SOCAP12 is an excellent model for elevator pitches, by the way! (Link to video)

Teacher colleague Gabrielle Jones has just started up a blog and shared a lesson on Social Commerce.

I’m considering using the GoldieBlox story in the Business English book I’m working on for Cornelsen, but don’t know whether the creative start-up angle is relevant for the Deutsche Mittelstand we’re producing the book for.

GoldieBlox is a play on words, Goldie Locks being the main character in the English fairytale, The Story of the Three Bears, which is relatively unknown in Germany.

Rhetorical styles

The PhD students looked at ways of incorporating rhetorical styles into their poster presentations. They were best at using the rule of three for repetition, but clearly need lots of practice in creating shorter, more powerful parallel phrases.

I demonstratrated the power of cutting out needless repetition through this correction (which is still not ideal):

  • To apply learning methods on our data sets we are looking for methods to group continuous data into discrete data. Such discretization methods are optimal if as little information as possible is lost and the discretized data still reflect the dependency structure.
  • Grouping continuous data into discrete data ideally requires methods that retain as much information as possible while still reflecting the dependency structure.

These were the phrases they came up with, which they practiced saying/ reading aloud:

rule of three

  • When I look for paleo-earthquakes in a certain area, I want to learn: Did big events happen, how big were they and how often did they occur?
  • Because there is such a deadlock in international climate negotiations, it is important to look at the levels below, namely the regional, the national and the local levels. (Use hands to scope from large to small, to express that region is larger than nation.)
  • Bayesian networks are a great tool since they help to discover dependency structures, to understand complex processes, and to communicate them to experts and non-experts.
  • Health depends on the fulfillment of physiological needs, the provision of adequate infrastructure, and the protection from disease exposure. (This nominal style needs rephrasing using verbs for spoken English: People can be considered healthy when their physiological needs are met, they are provided with an adequate infrastructure, and they are protected from exposure to disease.)
  • Finding alternatives to standard interpolation-based approaches allows us to stick with the original data, to retain the variance of the processes, and to adjust easily to different data qualities.
  • Interception cannot be measured; So we collect throughfall, we measure rainfall, and we subtract throughfall from rainfall.

parallel structure

  • Health is not simply the absence of disease, but in fact results from the presence of beneficial conditions. (This is contrast rather than parallel structure; a good example of how difficult it is to boil complex ideas down to simple phrases.)
  • There are two ways of looking at climate politics: One is the program, or policy; the other is its administration, or organization.

Next time I teach giving presentations, I’ll add logical shift: a change or movement in a piece resulting from an insight gained by the speaker. I’m just starting out, and so don’t have models and phrases from the students’ writing to work with yet. Work in progress.

Elevator speeches

The above links are pdfs of my presentation and handouts from the workshop I gave at the Uni Potsdam Graduiertenkolleg Geowissenschaften yesterday and today.

This is an extremely interesting challenge for me, as these scientists are more advanced presenters than the undergraduate students I’ve normally taught, and not as versed in the world of marketing as my business clients. As a group, they give a series of short 2-minute presentations as an invitation to later visit their science posters in the exhibit area.  Key issues are how to make their points memorable, and their listeners hungry for more. This opens up a huge area for micro-storytelling (adding the personal dimension), but also for memorable catchphrases that stay safely this side of rhetoric. Work in progress, I’m looking forward to the rest of the workshop.

Susanne Frölich-Steffen (her website), a scientist now working as a communcation skills trainer in the academic world (primarily in Munich and Bavaria) gave me wonderful tips. I’m hoping we can work together in the future.

Further reading:

  • Michael Alley: The craft of scientific presentations. Critical steps to succeed and critical errors to avoid. Springer NY 2003 ISBN-0-387-95555-0
    Book homepage
  • Nancy Duarte: Slide:ology. The art and science of creating great presentations. O’Reilly 2008 ISBN-13:978-0-596-52234-6
    Nancy Duarte’s blog