Confident & Capable: Encouraging Girls in STEM
From Ada Lovelace who designed the first computer program, to Marie Curie who pioneered research on radioactivity, to Dr. Katie Bouman who led the development of an algorithm that enables us to capture images of black holes—many groundbreaking scientific, mathematical, and technological discoveries were made by women.
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are essential to solving our world’s problems. According to a report by the Girl Scout Research Institute, STEM jobs have increased by 79% over the past 30 years—and are expected to continue to grow.
Despite the fact that there isn’t a significant difference in boys’ and girls’ STEM abilities (in fact, some studies suggest that girls outperform boys in these areas), girls are still vastly underrepresented in the STEM workforce.
Kate Rae writes in Today’s Parent, “If half of the population isn’t contributing to the best ideas, they’re not, in fact, the best ideas.” Karen Purcell echoes this sentiment, “If we want to attract the best and brightest minds into the fields that will move us forward, we must look to all of the population.”
Not only do girls need STEM—STEM needs girls!
How Teachers Can Help Encourage Girls in STEM
Elementary and middle school teachers can make a big impact on encouraging girls in STEM subjects. These teachers are especially important as the STEM gender gap normally increases somewhere between a love of science and math in elementary school and selecting a college and career path in later years.
Avoid Unconscious Bias
Oftentimes a girl’s drive is squashed by unintentional biases that are placed on her. “Don’t get dirty.” “You can be the nurse.” “Bugs are icky. Don’t touch!” Challenge stereotypes when you hear them and address them with the class: “Girls can’t play with the Legos.” “Only boys can be president.” When you hear comments like this, start a conversation with your class.
Provide Role Models
It seems that one of the stopping points when it comes to fostering girls’ interest in STEM is a lack of female role models. They hear the success stories of Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong, and Bill Gates, but often overlooked are the stories of Maria Telkes, Mildred Dresselhaus, and Grace Hopper.
In your lessons, discuss the contributions of important scientists, inventors, and pioneers of both genders in classroom lessons. A Mighty Girl and the International Women’s Day websites are great resources for finding stories of inspirational women to share.
Guest speakers from your community can also be powerful role models for your students. If you don’t have local connections, you can use videos or your classroom read-alouds to introduce your girls to women in STEM. Consider the demographics of your class and be sure to find role models that your girls can relate to—this is especially important for minorities, English language learners (ELLs), and students with special needs. Remember, representation matters!
If you’re a female teacher, you can be a role model to your female students. Share your with your entire class (female and male students alike) your own experiences with studying STEM subjects, stories of how curious you were as a child, and your appreciation for math, science, and technology.
Explain the Real-World Significance
STEM jobs are crucial for making a difference in society’s problems, like public health and environmental issues. Give students projects that address real-world problems so that they can understand the benefits of STEM. Many young women want to make the world a better place—STEM careers can help us reach that goal.
Pique Their Curiosity
Teachers have a unique opportunity to introduce and encourage girls in STEM. Young children are naturally curious—capitalize on this curiosity and let their interests guide your lessons.
If you’re looking for ways to get girls excited about STEM, try incorporating it into other curricular areas. Students can use an app like Scratch to create a game to review math facts, or a story to explain the main idea of a passage. By integrating STEM into other subjects, girls will develop important inquiry and research skills.
Videos can be engaging tools (and an easy way to introduce students to women in different STEM careers), but be sure to include plenty of hands-on experiences in your lessons as well. DonorsChoose is an excellent means to fund STEM materials for your classroom—use it for anything from manipulatives to building robots.
Use a Variety of Resources
There are countless resources available online that can expose young girls to a variety of STEM activities and skills. Many of these sites are designed to make STEM welcoming, accessible, and engaging—specifically for girls. A few of our favorites are listed below:
ThinkSTEAM offers workshops and other initiatives to motivate and inspire girls to use STEAM to enhance their communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.
- Techbridge Girls
Techbridge Girls emphasizes the importance of equitable learning experiences for minority populations, who are underrepresented in STEM careers.
SciGirls, part of PBS Learning Media, offers half-hour long videos that follow a group of middle school girls as they carry out inquiry-based investigations with the help of scientist mentors.
GC3, or Girls Creating Career Connections, allows girls to explore different STEM careers through videos, activities, games, and more.
- Web Adventures
Web Adventures provides web and app games that enable girls to immerse themselves in various STEM careers—all in an interactive, engaging format.
- Code with Google
Code with Google introduces students to coding through easy-to-follow videos with simple directions, making it perfect for students at any level.
EngineerGirl provides girls an in-depth look at engineering, featuring video interviews with women engineers in a variety of fields, a section where girls can “try on” an engineering career, a section to help girls develop an engineering goal of their own, and more.
- Carnegie STEM Girls+
Carnegie STEM Girls+ is a comprehensive site that offers activities, resources, and programs to encourage teenage girls to explore STEM skills and careers.
Engaging girls in STEM is more important than ever. Educators play a key role in encouraging girls in STEM and closing the gender gap in these fields.
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