Colorwheel Toys

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We went back to the local high school we previously visited to interview girls that were involved in STEM activities. We asked them about their after school activities, teaching/tutoring experience, jobs, what they did for fun, and would they be interested in working for our company as “Mary Kay” representatives. We told them that working for our company would involve hosting birthday parties, after school activities, and summer camps. We spoke to five girls in total. All the girls were really excited about our idea and all said that they would love to work for us.

Key Learnings:

  • High schoolers are really busy. A job that would let them work flexible, and not too many, hours,  really appealed to the girls.
  • Some of them already work at summer camps. 
  • The science summer camps in the area are always looking for more educational content. We should consider selling our product/learning modules/experience to them. 
  • Some school groups try to do outreach to local elementary schools,by volunteering, and have a hard time organizing the activities. We could consider partnering with these groups.
  • One of the girls already hosted an impromptu birthday part for a friend’s sibling. Therefore, this is a pretty good idea for high school girls.
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One of the ways we have been investigating our business model is by going into toy stores and seeing what people buy. We visited an awesome toy store in Los Altos that also sells teaching supplies to see what they had. Their science kits section was very well stocked, and the employee I spoke to was very proud of the fact that they carried toys that were hard to find in other places.

Key Learnings:

  • Science kits frequently bought as default gifts for birthday parties.
  • The age range is usually somewhere between 6 and 10 years old
  • Parents judge kits based on their packaging and whether they look too cheap (see attached photos for and example of popular packaging)
  • Generally teachers just buy stencils, workbooks, and art supplies from them. Some science kits that they carry can be used for classroom activities but not that many.
  • Some popular toys are gearations (see attached photo) and building sets with magnets in them (magnatiles, tegu)
  • The Science kit area is very crowded and it will be hard to differentiate our product.

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We had a meeting this morning with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. The foundation is focused on getting children, right now mostly middle school but expanding into elementary school, ready for college and careers. They are doing this by running several programs, the most notable of which is the step up to algebra program. An intensive multi-week, 4 hour a day, program that brings kids up to speed in algebra and raises their confidence in their own abilities.

One interesting aspect of their organization is that they measure the attitude of the kids before and after the program and find very positive gains. This will be an interesting direction for us to explore for use as a metric. They’ve obtained good results using this metric. The tests were designed in conjunction with a professor at Santa Clara University.

Additionally, they’ve invited us to an event for middle school teachers to work on design thinking in designing math/science curricula. We’ll also, hopefully, be able to connect with more elementary schools through them.

It was a great visit and very nice to hear about an organization that is working on helping prepare kids for college and getting them excited about their abilities in STEM.

We’ve been looking at a lot of the research on girls engagement in STEM and what helps and what doesn’t. Below are some selected quotes from papers that we’ve found and paper that have been recommended to us by researchers and educators.

Why So Few?

“One finding shows that girls who believe that intelligence can expand with experience and learning tend to do better on math tests; these girls are also more likely to say they want to continue to study math in the future. That is, believing in the potential for intellectual growth, in and of itself, improves outcomes. A “growth mindset” is helpful for all students, but it is particularly important for girls in mathematics, where negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities persist. By encouraging a “growth mindset,” teachers and parents can encourage girls’ achievements and interest in math and science.”

“When test administrators tell students that girls and boys are equally capable in math, however, the difference in performance essentially disappears, illustrating that changes in the learning environment can improve girls’ achievements in math.”

“Research profiled in this report shows that negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities in math can indeed measurably lower girls’ test performance. Researchers have also documented how stereotypes can lower girls’ aspirations for science and engineering careers over time. When test administrators tell students that girls and boys are equally capable in math, however, the difference in performance essentially disappears, illustrating that changes in the learning environment can improve girls’ achievements in math.”

“Research profiled in the report finds that girls assess their mathematical abilities lower than do boys with similar mathematical achievements. At the same time, girls hold themselves to a higher standard than boys do in subjects like math, believing that they have to be exceptional to succeed in “male” fields. One result of girls’ lower self-assessment of their math ability—even in the face of good grades and test scores—and their higher standards for performance is that fewer girls than boys aspire to STEM careers.”

All of these findings agree with what we have personally experienced and what we have found from talking to many parents, educators, and children.

Mathematics Self-Efficacy, Ethnic Identity, Gender, and Career Interests Related to Mathematics and Science

“In addition, as hypothesized, gender directly predicted students’ career interests in science and engineering.”

“it is known that adolescent girls tend to perform better in mathematics classes that encourage cooperative rather than competitive learning (Hyde, 1993).”

One of the ideas we have been exploring is incorporating aspects of the girl scout model into our business plan. This year is the 100th year that the girl scouts organization has been around, and, since its inception, there have been 50 million girl scouts. 

 

Badges:

Girls seem to be really excited about earning merit badges and using them to compare where they are to where their friends are. When we visited the Children’s Creativity Museum, even though the girls were not that excited by the badges in the beginning, by the end they were begging us for the badges and very excited that they had leveled up to be a “STEM Star” despite there being no actual value in being a “STEM Star” besides leveling up.

 

Community:

What we have found over the course of testing is that girls have a great time building our cars when there are other girls around and/or when Alice, Bettina, Miguel, or I are around to help them. This is a key part of the Girl Scouts model in which they focus on community.

 

Funding:

Girl Scouts are funded by a small fee from each scout. Past this they make money from donations. Additionally, the girls raise money for their own troop by having cookie sales. Having a small fee to participate and then charging for other things, kits, badges, etc is an interesting model to consider.

 

Organization:

The girl scouts are a very highly structured organization. There is a national council with 109 regional councils. Each regional council is divided into several service units aka neighborhoods and each of those has several troops. In 2004, Girl Scouts of the USA hired Professor Willie Pietersen, an instructor at Columbia Business School, to use his expertise in business metrics “to help Girl Scouts develop a strategy to ensure our future success and growth.”1  

1.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Scouts_of_the_USA

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Thanks to our mentor Nick we were able to attend the “Tech Never Looked so Good” event hosted by the women 2.0 group. It was great to hear Women’s perspectives about working in Tech. The part of the event that was most pertinent to our startup was hearing the panelist’s perspectives on growing up and raising their daughters.  Additionally, the event was a benefit for the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. We were able to talk to their representative and will be working with them to reach out to elementary school teachers. This will enable us to both test our product and test our channel at the same time.

Additionally, we were able to talk to the women who was, as a representative for AT&T, one of the sponsors of the event and the emcee for the evening. We’ll be staying in contact with her to be able to get another perspective on our company.

Key learnings:

  • Females in the panel believed that they are valued a lot by their “Art of Persuasion”
  • Female perspective in Tech is sparse
  • Do you want your daughter end up in Tech as well? “it’s very hard to say where my kids end up, and I don’t want to pigeon hole them”
  • Married couple: “I’d like to blur the gender roles such as who pays the bills or change a flat tire”
  • Daughter: “I’d raise her to be more independent and teach her how to take care of herself”
  • “Blurring the roles — be able to have leadership regardless of your gender”
  • What makes a great leader: block out the noise, make your team shine, you’re underneath supporting them, not ahead of them
  • Entrepreneurs taking advantage the low cost to start a company, and the proliferation of incubators in the valley right now.
  • Education ecosystem – there are a lot of sweet spots to hit
  • Growth of knowledge spreads so quickly here in the silicon valley
  • Don’t let your background stop you from doing something, so many here in Silicon Valley are willing to help
  • “Go attend conferences, go talk to people: you’ll absorb all the knowledge you need”

We went to Duveneck Elementary School’s after school program to test our set with a larger group of children. There were nineteen kids there ranging from second to fifth grade. We had a great time playing with all the kids, watching them assemble our car, and teaching them about circuits. Because of the lessons learned from the toys we distributed last week, both on the production and on the consumer end, we updated our cars before visiting Duveneck.

The kids had a great time playing with our toys, several of them made their parents wait around for a while before they would consent to leave and go home.

Quotes:
– about internet usage, mom: “my son has to ask permission for everything”
– “I just have one last question, can we keep playing?”
– “Can we keep these?”
– “When are you coming back?”

Hypotheses and Results:

Will our toy would work well with a large group of children? Yes! They loved playing with the cars together, one kid would start the car and another one would catch it. They organized races between the different groups

How much learning about circuits can be done with our toy and will kids would actually be interested in learning about circuits? Also, are our simplified instructions any good? Yes, our simplified instructions were helpful. However, they definitely still need to be improved. The kids seemed to understand how circuits worked and were asking us questions.

Key Learnings:
– Social play, the kids were teaching each other how to make the cars and how to improve them. They also loved explaining concepts to each other
– competition defeats short attention span. Kids also will naturally organize a competition without much help from parents/teachers
– parents wary about letting their kids online alone – more likely if they’ve approved/know about a particular site. They still strictly limit the amount of time kids spend on approved sites.
– with competition involved, kids naturally want to make their thing better
– learning circuits to make their car better – hook them first then tell them they’ll beat the other people
– both genders are competitive (not just guys)
– kids are more scared of racing against older kids than of racing against the opposite gender
-These kids are pretty advanced, a lot of the older ones had a basic understanding of circuits
-We need to come up with a good way to explain polarity
-Even with a very basic circuit diagram the kids didn’t have much problem putting the circuit together
-We need to get the car to a point half way between what we had last week (way too hard) and just having the circuit to attach (much too easy)
-Kids love showing off their creations, several of them showed us lego creations they had built or some way in which they improved the car

All of these learnings will be really helpful as we prepare to test on children at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco next weekend.

Unfortunately, because this is a school and there was no way to contact every parent individually ahead of time, we do not have any photos or videos from this session.