In a Dartmouth study of 507 middle-school students, girls were twice as likely to prefer building the ladybug robot in the first photo to building the gears-and-wheels robot in the second photo. This result dovetails with our own surveys of Gizmo Garden students, which show that girls have a stronger sense of belonging in robotics when the projects incorporate artistic expression.
But does incorporating creativity decrease the enjoyment of boys? Dartmouth probed that question after they ran an animal-themed robot curriculum for 50 middle school students. In post-event surveys, boys and girls reported almost identically high enjoyment. Both boys and girls gave ratings of over four stars out of five to their enjoyment of researching their chosen animals, designing their robots, and assembling the chassis, wheels motors, and electronics. Both boys and girls gave just under four stars to coding their robots.
The Dartmouth team’s definition of success was designing a program that produces “any measurable increase in female interest". Since their animal robot program was preferred by 2/3 of girls during pre-event surveys, and was ranked four stars for enjoyment by both girls and boys in post-event surveys, they concluded that their program was an “immense success.”
One possibility is that [computer science] opportunities are geared toward activities more likely to attract boys, such as gaming, and that the material itself might not resonate as much with some girls. Approaches to increasing the number of students — both male and female — who learn CS should consider material that signals to male and female students that they belong and can succeed.
-- Diversity Gaps in Computer Science by Google & Accenture