Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Geek Dad Hails Hippie Pandas for Taking FIRST

Congratulations to Girl Scout tech team The Hippie Pandas, who participated last week at the FIRST World Championship where they won 1st place in the Gracious Professionalism Award. The Gracious Professionalism Award sponsored by Johnson & Johnson celebrates outstanding sportsmanship and continuous gracious professionalism in the heat of competition, both on and off the playing field.

Wired Magazine's Geek Dad was on hand and reports that the single most impressive project of the Championship was from a group of four girls from Rochester, New York, called the Hippie Pandas, aged 11-14, faced with the need to develop a project based on food. One of the coaches of the Hippie Pandas had a cousin in the Peace Corps and found out that, because women in Nicaragua were drinking unpasteurized milk, they also experienced a higher rate of miscarriages and disease. The Hippie Pandas took this as a challenge.

In FIRST LEGO League, teams use the LEGO Education MINDSTORMS robotics system to design a robot that can solve challenges and complete missions on a LEGO-based playing field.

The Hippie Pandas used their robotics knowledge to participate in the 2011-2012 FLL Food Factor Challenge, where they were instructed to investigate their food and find a way to improve its safe delivery. As part of this project, the Hippie Pandas researched the steps taken for getting milk from the farm to the table. They learned that problems can occur while pasteurizing milk, so they designed a solar-powered milk pasteurization system that is both effective and inexpensive. Through the team’s determination and help from their coach and her contacts at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), their pasteurization system will be implemented in a village in Nicaragua. Cheryl and her contacts used their expertise in water treatment and knowledge from working in developing countries to help the Hippie Pandas understand solar pasteurization. The girls rolled mats, made reflectors, and made wax indicators because thermometers are expensive in Nicaragua. According to Ashley, “The people in Nicaragua will have safer milk than the raw milk they are drinking now. The solar pasteurizer is not very expensive, so it will not cost the people a lot of money for safe milk.”

The Hippie Pandas’ hard work and innovative idea certainly paid off, as the girls attended the World Festival. At the event, the girls met with teams from around the world and investigated the solutions those teams devised. As Emily said, “The program is really fun even if you aren’t really interested in robotics or programming; there are other things that you are able to do such as researching, designing presentations, and working on the projects.” It is this sort of teamwork that has propelled the Hippie Pandas to where they are today. Owner and Vice Chairman of the LEGO Group, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, sums up the FIRST experience best: "FLL encourages children to design, construct, and program their own intelligent inventions. This allows them not only to understand technology but to become masters of it.”

According to the Girl Scout Research Institute study Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, though a majority of today's girls have a clear interest in STEM, they don't prioritize STEM fields when thinking about their future careers.

This latest offering from the Girl Scout Research Institute shows that 74 percent of teen girls are interested in STEM subjects and the general field of study. Further, a high 82 percent of girls see themselves as "smart enough to have a career in STEM." And yet, few girls consider it their number-one career option: 81 percent of girls interested in STEM are interested in pursuing STEM careers, but only 13 percent say it's their first choice. Additionally, girls express that they don't know a lot about STEM careers and the opportunities afforded by these fields, with 60 percent of STEM-interested girls acknowledging that they know more about other careers than they do about STEM careers.