A couple of weeks ago a new innovative startup, Play-i, released an infographic on what holds girls back from exploring a career in Computer Science. This infographic proceeds an interview I gave to eSchoolNews speaking to a few tactical approaches we can take both in and outside the classroom to engage girls in STEM.
Increasing women in the STEM fields is an area I’ve been involved in since – to be honest – college. On top of my undergraduate mechanical engineering studies, I worked 10-15 hours a week creating and implementing hands-on activities in Boston-area classrooms. Many of the activities I designed I tried to be conscious of the messages we were promoting to balance gender engagement. A couple years out of college I left my “dream” engineering job to dive into the R&D of K12 STEM curricula and technology, which then led to the launch of iCreate. So, all said, I’ve been immersed in “STEM for girls” for nearly 15 years. Here are three things I’ve learned along the way.
Women tend to want to help people, and STEM is not regularly promoted as directly helping people.
Ironically enough, so many STEM careers in this world are ultimately about helping people. Take my first engineering job at Imagineering, for example. It wasn’t just about making the fastest roller coaster (especially at Disney); it was about storytelling and making sure that guests have a safe, enjoyable, immersive experiences. When integrating hands-on classroom activities – whether it’s creating a stop-motion video or making a LEGO robot – instill project requirements that reflect the context of story and aspects of safety.
Women tend to have less experiences to become comfortable with spatial skills.
This is what I refer to as the “messing about” argument. Boys – whether it’s societal or inherent (that’s a whole other post) – typically have more opportunities growing up to build and create with their hands. Whether it’s LEGOs, transformers, or Lincoln Logs (OK, dating myself!), boys have more chances to hone their spatial skills. Much of feeling comfortable with STEM content is having a solid spatial foundation, which women typically do not have. I remember having an extremely hard time with all of my physics and force/motion classes in college. This is why the constructionist projects at the K12 level are so crucial.
Things like NERD girls aren’t helping our efforts.
There are many organizations and efforts out there trying to address the lack of women in STEM. And to be honest, many do this quite poorly, and potentially worsen perceptions that STEM is for boys, it’s nerdy, and unsocial. Take, for example, the organization NERD girls. It’s a great organization, challenging women engineers to build a car, but what kind of name is that? Imagine telling a 5-year-old girl, “So, you can either play volleyball…or be a NERD girl. What do you think?” Another one of my favorites is the default to pink. Want to get girls to use it? Well, let’s dip it in pink and call it a day. I constantly see efforts like this and just cringe, as we really need to be focusing more on #1 and #2.
We would love to hear how others have found helpful ways to increase STEM engagement for women.