The history of STEM is filled with amazing women who revolutionized our understanding of science. Take Grace Hopper, one of the first computer programmers who went on to become a rear admiral in the United States Navy. Chien-Shiung Wu was a renowned physicist who helped crack the secrets of nuclear physics. Alice Ball saved countless lives by developing a treatment for leprosy, while Ynés Mexía gave us a better understanding of the many plants which make up our environment. The list goes on, and only grows more extraordinary!
Unfortunately, women only make up 28 percent of the STEM workforce. This is because many young girls have struggled to engage with STEM while in school. The reasons for this are numerous, from forced stereotypes to a lack of role models.
As a result, many young women are missing their chance to pursue STEM in higher education, and the world is poorer for it. So, how can educators take steps to correct this imbalance?
One way is by introducing new strategies into the classroom that make STEM learning a priority and encouraging young girls to get involved. Here are just a few ideas to help educators get started:
Redefine STEM: STEM is more than just a career choice. It is more than an acronym. It is a way of thinking. STEM is being able to ask questions, think critically, and creatively. Problem solving is at the heart of STEM. So, start there….at the heart! The best way to start at the heart of STEM is to focus on the scientific Habits of Mind. These are the skills that scientists would argue are more important than science content to be a successful scientist.
Highlight Female STEM Role Models: Representation can have a powerful effect on a student’s growth. By demonstrating how history is filled with amazing women who revolutionized our understanding of STEM, we can encourage our students to do the same. Stock up on books that highlight and celebrate the remarkable contributions women have made to STEM. Use a science lesson to highlight Rosalind Franklin or Eugenie Clark. Give your students a hero they can look up to.
Foster Perseverance: Research has shown that girls believe that perfection is the key to success which hinders risk-taking and learning from mistakes. Instead, teach them that mistakes are a part of life, and that success is controllable by praising controllable characteristics. Encourage a failure-friendly culture in your classroom and have students record their wonderful mistakes. Use reflection journals to examine what they learned.
Promote Collaboration: STEM is not done in isolation. No new discovery will ever come from just one individual. Recent research has found that females find social interactions more rewarding than males. Promote the importance of social connections, belonging, and collaboration to STEM success.
Our students – especially the young girls in our classrooms – have the potential to change the world. When given the support they need, they can grow into extraordinary thinkers.
So, let’s make sure they have all the tools necessary to thrive in the field of STEM. Help young girls foster their hunger for academic knowledge by making intentional changes to your curriculum. Who knows? The next great science discovery could begin in your classroom!
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