Schools that want to improve learning outcomes for girls
in science, technology, engineering and math classes may want to stop lecturing
and start using active learning models. Engaging
girls in STEM
at an early age
is essential to closing the gender divide, particularly in more technical areas
of STEM, such as engineering and computer science. Offering role models,
encouraging collaboration and providing opportunities for student-directed
project-based learning using design thinking and other cutting-edge pedagogies
engages girls and improves learning outcomes.
STEM has a bad rap
At the research round tables at ISTE 2014, Jung Won Hur, an assistant
professor at Auburn University, shared that girls are often less engaged in
computer science because they have a negative perception of computer scientists
and other technical jobs. Hur's research found that girls lack role models and
are rarely exposed to computer science at a young age. And because they are
afraid of how their peers may perceive their interest in STEM, they are less
likely to explore STEM courses, programs and college majors.
According to Hur, girls' low self-efficacy in highly technical areas of STEM
causes them to disengage before they ever get to high school. This is
particularly disheartening, as researchers Gerald Knezek, Rhonda Christensen and
Tandra Tyler-Wood also found that without engagement in middle school, girls are
less likely to choose STEM as a
career. Instead, they found that girls are interested in careers where they
can "make a difference in the world" and are more goal-oriented regarding their
future at an earlier age than males.
What we can do
We have an opportunity to engage girls with active
learning in STEM
and we need to take it. We can encourage girls to collaborate with their peers,
select projects that are meaningful to them and solve problems that impact their
community. Summer camps are not enough. Every girl deserves an opportunity to
explore computer science, engineering, physics and other areas of STEM.
Consider having girls-only groups in your STEM classes, a girls-only section
of a science classes or running an after-school club for middle school girls run
by high school girls involved in programs like FIRST Robotics. Check out the work of the Girls of Steel.
Building girls' self-esteem is also a key component of engaging girls in
STEM. Let girls work on teams to solve real-life challenges and provide
successful experiences for them to succeed. In our middle school, all fifth and
sixth grade girls take a required computer science class. In these classes, team
collaboration is not only permitted, it's expected. Partner with local
organizations like the Girl Scouts, Black Girls Code and university
organizations such as Carnegie Mellon
University Women in CS or the National
Girls Collaborative Project to make it happen.
Build innovation stations
At The Ellis School, we have innovation stations across
the school, led by a team of dedicated STEM teachers that updates the station
activities monthly. These stations are places where girls are innovating,
building and making sense of the world around them. To encourage spatial
reasoning and STEM-focused “play,” Ellis has installed engineering-focused
innovation stations in every classroom in the lower school. The middle and upper
school each have one innovation station installed in the public spaces and
stocked with challenges to encourage girls to tinker, develop spatial skills and
encourage one another. These stations are used in two ways: in class, to build
knowledge of design thinking and problem-solving concepts tied to the curricula,
and as “learning through play” spaces that girls may access on their own.
Innovation stations allow girls to tinker and explore in low-pressure ways.
Educators can achieve critical-thinking and higher-level thinking in STEM
classes through student-directed project-based learning using design thinking
where girls identify "wicked problems" they want to solve. Through these
problems, they build empathy for others, fail early and fail often before making
prototypes and solutions to solve problems in their school, communities and
globally. Involve role models in the projects, show girls that STEM careers are
collaborative, and provide feedback and resources to set them up for
Tools for STEM success
There are many great products at ISTE 2014 that can engage girls in STEM. Modular Robotics Cubelets and MOSS allow
girls to instantly engage in creative problem solving. BirdBrain Technologies'
Hummingbird and Finch robots also encourage cross-disciplinary creative
expression and scaffold knowledge of computer science, engineering and
computational thinking. Tynker provides self-paced courses with built-in
tutoring, visual tools and more for girls to learn programming. Vernier Probeware allows
for hands-on science learning and the opportunity to shift passive science
learning to active learning.
Want to learn more ways to incorporate STEM skills into your lessons? Check
out ISTE's STEM
Lisa Abel-Palmieri, Ph.D., is the director of technology and innovation
and head of computer science at The Ellis School. Connect
with her on Twitter via @Learn21Tech.