Encouraging Young Girls to Engage with STEM
July 1, 2022
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to interview Mary Winn, a senior scientist at the Van Andel Institute. Winn uses her expertise in biomedical science with concepts in math and computer science to understand cancer. She, along with a number of other women at VAI, are doing incredible work that’s pushing us closer and closer to new treatments for serious illnesses. What’s truly heartwarming though is that Winn’s passion for science started in middle school, where she was exposed to the complexities of living organisms. It was through the guidance of her biology teacher that Winn first realized that she could have a future in STEM, and what a journey it has been.
While more and more women like Mary Winn are taking up careers in STEM, most research shows that they still only represent 28% of the workforce. Much of this can be traced back to schooling. Young girls are often discouraged from following careers in STEM due to stereotyping around the profession, loss of interest in STEM over time, and an absence of role models. But what if we could get young girls fired-up about STEM? How can educators foster a sense of wonder and opportunity around science and technology?
Just imagine what could be accomplished if young girls like Mary Winn were encouraged to pursue their interest in STEM through school and beyond? Here are just a few strategies 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 these 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, collaboration to STEM success.
Looking for more resources to celebrate women in STEM with your students? Check out these four awesome, free ideas to help you teach about women’s history in a way that’s memorable, meaningful, and FUN. Don’t forget to check out our latest webinar and these exciting books about brilliant women who changed the world!
For more free educational resources, or ideas on how to promote healthy SEL, simply follow this link!