Supporting Girls in STEM

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Supporting Girls in STEMOn a recent flight, I was surprised to see the entire flight crew was female. I then stopped to think: Why is that so surprising? Women can fly planes just as well (if not better) than men. In 2016, we had our first major party female candidate for president. In 2018, a record number of women were elected to Congress. Women are breaking the glass ceiling in many areas—but less so in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In a recent article for Forbes, contributing author Janice Gassam states that women make up about 24 percent of those employed in STEM occupations, and that worldwide the numbers are even more “abysmal,” especially for women of color. Women face several barriers in overcoming these numbers, including gender bias, lack of historical recognition of women in STEM fields, and feelings of isolation in a male-dominated workforce.

Girls are no less capable in STEM fields than boys are. However, they may feel “less-than” because of stereotyping and social pressures. There are things we can do as teachers and parents to encourage girls and break down those barriers to STEM fields:

  • Build up girls’ self-belief, self-esteem, and self-efficacy in STEM fields—highlighting their successes and innovative ways of thinking.
  • Encourage girls to find interests in STEM fields. This can be done by pointing girls toward books (fiction and nonfiction), magazines, artifacts, and websites where they can discover new ideas.
  • Put STEM toys, games, and kits around the room, and provide students time to explore. K’NEX blocks, Brain Flakes, EMIDO building blocks—websites like MindWare have all kinds of options.
  • Supporting Girls in STEMWatch how you interact with girls in the classroom and at home—there is evidence that teachers will react and respond more quickly to boys than to girls. This may inhibit girls from even attempting to get involved in classroom or home discussions.
  • Allow girls to work in “girls only” groups when developing projects. Encourage them in collaborative support and project completion.
  • Highlight significant women who have contributed to STEM fields—the movie Hidden Figures is an excellent example of overlooked important women in science. Check out this story, “Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know,” at the Smithsonian Institution website.
  • Connect with the Association for Women in Science, Women in Technology, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Association for Women in Mathematics. All these organizations offer mentoring, classes, resources, and support for girls who are interested in STEM fields.
  • Bring in women who work in STEM fields to share their experiences and serve as role models for girls.
  • Live the motto of “Failure is the key to success—each mistake teaches us something.” Help your students recognize mistakes as learning opportunities. Additionally, use the theory of “yet.” When a student says, “I can’t,” you say, “Yet!”
  • Go on field trips (real or virtual) where students can see and meet females working in STEM fields. Check out Discovery Education.
  • Your local universities, colleges, or community colleges may have after-school or summer programs for girls. ID Tech provides summer STEM camps in over 150 locations.

Finally, put up this quote in your classroom to remind girls every day of their importance in our futures:

“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” —Mae Jemison, M.D., astronaut and first African American woman in space

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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