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Building skills, brick by brick: Hillyard Library program promotes STEM to girls ages 6-12

Michelle Bakken, 10, checks out the design of her lego water craft as her mother, Librarian Cathy Bakken looks on during a Lego building activity – Girls Brick Build – in which participants built boats out of Legos and loaded them with pennies until they sank, on Tuesday, at the Hillyard Library in Spokane. The program aims to promote STEM to girls ages 6-12. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Michelle Bakken, 10, checks out the design of her lego water craft as her mother, Librarian Cathy Bakken looks on during a Lego building activity – Girls Brick Build – in which participants built boats out of Legos and loaded them with pennies until they sank, on Tuesday, at the Hillyard Library in Spokane. The program aims to promote STEM to girls ages 6-12. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Hailey Martzall, 7, snapped together a plateful of interlocking plastic bricks. She made a broad base with evenly sized blocks stacked around the edge. She added what she described as a sail and a cannon poking off the side of the structure. It was a boat.

Her project was part of Girls Brick Build, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) challenge for girls ages 6 to 12 held on the second Tuesday of every month at the Hillyard Library.

Librarian Cathy Bakken has held these classes since September. She had recently attended a seminar where she learned that the number of students interested in STEM classes was starting to fall. The number of girls in STEM was even lower.

She decided to launch classes exclusively for girls to pique their interest.

“When it’s just girls in the room, their voices are heard more,” she said.

Although these classes are intended for girls, Bakken said she sometimes allows boys, depending on the circumstance. Children don’t have to register, they can drop by after school.

At Tuesday’s class, seven girls and one boy gathered around the table, waiting to dig into their plates of interlocking Lego bricks.

“Today’s challenge is to make a boat that will float, and we’ll see how many pennies it will hold before it sinks,” she told them.

Bakken bought the bricks using funds from the Spokane Library Foundation. She collected a 1,000-piece box, 12 large place plates and some kits with wheels and axles.

Hailey Martzall’s boat ended up holding 40 pennies before it sunk. Her older sister, Kailenn Westover, 12, managed to build a ship that withstood 51 pennies after her first attempt held 19.

“I made it bigger,” Kailenn said of the secret of her success.

The girls spent most of the class reassembling their boats as fast as they could before hopping back in line to test them out on the water again, hoping to hold more pennies than the last attempt.

Yvonne Bakken, a seventh-grader, said she added three layers of bricks to put as many air pockets as she could on her boat. Her sister, Michelle, 10, tried to make the blocks as airtight as possible.

Kailenn and Hailey were there with Hailey’s twin, Danica. Their mother, Heather Martzall, said this was their first visit to one of the classes at the library. She home-schools her children, and the class gives them an opportunity to meet kids their age.

The subject appealed to them as well.

“We build with Legos at home all the time,” she said.


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