AnnMarie Thomas Explores the Playful Side of Engineering

AnnMarie Thomas Explores the Playful Side of Engineering
Dr. AnnMarie Thomas (photo by Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas)
Dr. AnnMarie Thomas with LED necklace. (photo by Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas)

Dr. AnnMarie Thomas teaches engineering at the University of St. Thomas, where she is the director of their Playful Learning Lab. Her unconventional approach to teaching includes making circuits out of dough, toy design, and the physics behind circus arts. She is also the co-founder and director of the university’s Center for Engineering Education, which teaches engineering to teachers of pre-kindergarten through high school students, and researches engineering education for those grades.

AnnMarie is really proud of the work her students have done in showing more kids and adults the importance, and fun, of engineering. Several students (Emma Koller, Lauren Van Beek, Alli Lague, and Jon Erickson… as well as other engineers and teachers), are teaching at the week long STEPS Camp, which the University runs as a free summer camp for girls. Student Brynn Kasper led a team of engineering students that taught Creative Circuits at Metro Deaf School this past spring.

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Maker Media is proud to be publishing AnnMarie’s first full length book, which will examine the backgrounds of today’s makers when they were children to gain insight into encouraging the maker mindset in children. ‘Making Makers’ is available for pre-order on Amazon, and is expected to be out in late September 2014.

AnnMarie recently participated in the White House Maker Faire, presenting her Squishy Circuits play dough, which turns learning circuits into a fun, creative activity. AnnMarie created Squishy Circuits to let kids (and adults) create circuits and explore electronics using dough. She created a recipe for one type of dough to be a conductor and another to act as an insulator.

“The Maker Faire was incredible,” AnnMarie said, “because it showed makers that the work they were doing mattered and was important enough to have a day at the White House. I was amazed by the creativity and ingenuity on display.”

AnnMarie’s six year old daughter Sage has noticed that only a small percentage of her mom’s engineering students are girls. Often when Sage goes to engineering camps or classes she is the only girl. Together they are working to make girls in engineering more visible. We say, more power to them!

19 thoughts on “AnnMarie Thomas Explores the Playful Side of Engineering

  1. FrenchKiss says:

    Da phuck? What is this website’s obsession with female engineers? We need more ENGINEERS. Who cares if they are women or not. Ah, but towing that PC line for your liberal taskmasters is more important. Idiots.

    1. petitegeek says:

      It’s in honour of National Women in Engineering Day
      “This week we’d like to bring you profiles on women who are roboticists, artists, designers, programmers, and makers of all kinds over the next few days”

      Don’t worry, it only happens once a year ;)

      1. 10ghz says:

        When is National Men in Engineering Day?

        1. petitegeek says:

          The other 364 days of the year?

          1. FrenchKiss says:

            Bullshit. Run the same type of fawning story about some struggling male engineer to prove he’s as good as everybody else, cuz, you know, it’s tough out there. Extra points if the story is about a white male.

          2. petitegeek says:

            I’m sorry you feel that way, FrenchKiss. I believe the point is to increase the visibility of women engineers so girls can have role models, too. I’m lucky that my mom was a programmer, so I had my role model. I also found profiles of Cynthia Breazeal and she inspired me to get my PhD in robotics. I can only hope someone finds this profile of Prof. Thomas and is inspired by it. Everyone needs a hero, and this is a fantastic initiative by MAKE. :)

          3. FrenchKiss says:

            Really? One’s hero has to be of the same sex, or race, or sexual orientation? So women can only have women heroes? That is an asinine statement and makes no sense. And you have a Ph.D.? Not a very critical thinker are you? When is the MAKE initiative for inspiring white males gonna start? I’m not holding my breath. BTW, I have a Ph.D. too, and work on RADAR systems. We hire based on merit, not whether one sits or stands to urinate.

          4. petitegeek says:

            FrenchKiss, I grow tired of your ad hominem attacks. If you would like to debate this seriously, please post as I do, under your real name/account instead of hiding behind this anonymous account, or e-mail me directly at, and I would be happy to continue this discussion.

            And it appears that you are the one lacking critical skills, because when one says women are role models to girls (A are B), it does not imply that ALL role models to girls are women (all B are A). That is simple propositional logic. You argue that one should hire based on merit. Of course, and this is not the issue at hand. If you would like to start an initiative for inspiring white males, then I strongly encourage you to be the one to start it.

          5. FrenchKiss says:

            First, I’m bored of your PC clap trap. I have real work to do, I don’t work for a university. Second, I made no ad hominem attacks, I said your STATEMENT was asinine (which it is) and called into question your critical thinking (which is not ad hominem). Of course, if it makes you feel better, so be it. Third, you said ” I believe the point is to increase the visibility of women engineers so girls can have role models, too. ” This implies that women cannot have non-women role models. That is NOT the same thing as you are defending in your second paragraph. Additionally, you failed to defend your own proposition, by stating that I, a male, should start an initiative! Why? Perhaps because men prefer male role models and women prefer female role models?!?!?! A total contradiction of your previous statement. You’re too callow to understand the way the real world works. Maybe, someday you’ll grow-up. I’m done.

          6. AnonymousMale says:

            You neatly ignored her point that you are not willing to say these things with your name public. I wonder how your colleagues and friends would react as you insult the whole of academia and tell female friends and coworkers that the existing gender balance is not a problem.

            Children need role models, and the people they look to are people that are like them. Whether it’s gender, race, socioeconomic background. No they don’t have to be the same but it’s harder to look at someone successful and see that it’s possible for you too.

            People in the majority group freak out as soon as someone suggests promoting a minority group. “Where is the initiative for inspiring white males” you ask? It’s the entirety of the existing system, and that’s the problem. The default for role models in tech is the white male.

            By promoting a minority group you are not detracting from the existing majority. It’s not a zero-sum game. And as petitegeek mentioned, if you feel persecuted, you are free to start your own initiative for inspiring white males (seriously, go ahead).

            This will devolve into more insults (calling someone callow is actually ad-hominem, go figure), but I didn’t want to see yet another woman get harassed online with no supporting voices.

          7. FrenchKiss says:

            Awww, how cute! A male in touch with “his” fem side. Hmmm, I notice that YOU posted anonymously because…hypocrite. You must work in academia since you are defending this bullshit. So let me make it clear to you, ANONYMOUSMORON and PETITEGEEK, I don’t care for hypocrites, and progressive feel-good politically correct bullshit. Besides, you are a liar, since I never harassed your “delicate flower” for you to rescue. Strange how none of you “intellectual giants” can explain why there must be preferences, quotas, and set-asides for “under-represented” groups (which in fact is bigotry). Certainly it can’t be the fault of progressive universities. Certainly it can’t be the fault of business (and if you don’t know why you are painfully ignorant). Maybe, just maybe, these “under-represented” groups don’t want to be engineers? I know its too much to get your head around, but think about it, and also think about the fact that a “male”, had to rescue a modern, liberated woman. LOL!

          8. Myname says:

            Look at his comment history. Obviously a troll or just a bored and miserable person. Move along.

          9. StevetheHun says:

            It’s reverse discrimination. I’ve seen it go both ways. Had one manager who openly said he didn’t want women in his group, and I have seen incompetent engineers catapulted from new hire into management because they were women.

  2. AnnMarie Thomas Explores the Playful Side of Engineering | Salute says:

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  4. AnnMarie Thomas Explores the Playful Side of Engineering | MAKE | says:

    […] Original post: AnnMarie Thomas Explores the Playful Side of Engineering | MAKE […]

  5. StevetheHun says:

    I’m tired of the “we need more engineers” plea. It’s a lie companies tell to get more H1B visas. They uses the H1B Visas to drive DOWN engineering salaries, benefits and working conditions. They can abuse H1B engineers a lot more because if they fire them, they’re deported.

    I earned a BSEE, made the dean’s list and ETA KAPPA NU.
    Barely got a job, just one offer. Used my engineering education maybe three times for pay. I work with engineers who find straight line interpolation over there heads.

  6. Alex says:

    Meh, although i agree not enough women study engineering Led lampen makes it easy enough anyways

  7. Patrick Wolf says:

    Look at his comment history. Obviously a troll or just a bored and miserable person. Move along.

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Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

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