Stanford students bet that dads, daughters can make dynamic DIY duo

DIY, LED and D-A-D?

Add daughters to the mix, and you’ve got DesignDuo. It’s a do-it-yourself kit that aims to get 11-to-13-year-old girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) by having them design and create things with their dads.

DesignDuo is one of a dozen projects that will be featured Friday at Stanford University’s Learning, Design and Technology Expo. The expo, which was first held in 1999, has helped past projects get venture funding or incubator support. And the time seems to be ripe for education technology.

“There has been a real uptick in amount of interest in the past three years,” said Karin Forssell, director of the LDT program, which is part of the Graduate School of Education. “It’s perhaps a perfect storm of investors looking into the space, and tech making it easier to prototype” without the hassle of doing too many things over.

Kirti Patel and Laura Bruursema, LDT master’s program candidates, now wonder whether they would’ve pursued STEM majors as undergrads (economics and politics, respectively) had they been exposed to the intersection of art, design and technology at an earlier age. That led them to create DesignDuo to “get” today’s girls while they’re still young. Studies have shown girls lose interest in STEM in middle school and late elementary, Bruursema said in a phone interview Friday.

Products on the market that have similar goals — steering girls to STEM — include Roominate and GoldieBlox, building toys that Patel and Bruursema point out were designed by Stanford graduates.

So why target dads and daughters? Research in Silicon Valley by Brigid Barron, Patel’s faculty adviser, found fathers to be instrumental to “technical fluency,” according to the DesignDuo duo, who note that other studies have had similar findings. Their own dads, say the two women, were “STEM-like, always constructing and fixing things,” even though they did not work in STEM fields.

The DesignDuo kit includes all the materials and instructions needed to create a lamp and a light box, right down to alternating assignments of the tasks so dads don’t “take over” the project. The kit’s creators recently received positive feedback from families at the Beta Jam event at the Tech Museum in San Jose, as well as other beta testers.  And visions of the next iteration are already dancing in the duo’s heads.

But first things first. Like others in the LDT master’s program, Patel and Bruursema will show off their project to experts, potential investors and others Friday morning, and to the public in the afternoon. After that, maybe they can think further about other low-cost possibilities that can be included in other versions of a kit, such as arduino boards or the Raspberry Pi.

If you’re interested: The free, public portion of the Learning, Design and Technology Expo is 4 to 6 p.m. Friday in the lobby of the Center for Educational Research at Stanford building.

Photo of DesignDuo kit courtesy of Kirti Patel and Laura Bruursema


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  • Johanna Wise

    Fantastic! Perhaps Larry Summers can explain the directions to me.