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April 5, 2012 AT 6:51 am

ASK AN EDUCATOR! “How do you inspire middle/high school girls to get involved in STEM courses?”

Brad asks:

What are some basic projects to get middle/high school age girls involved in STEM classes?
It is extremely simple to capture the minds of the boys in this age group, but I’m having trouble developing a program that appeals to both boys and girls.

What a great question, and I truly believe that the importance of this topic is understated. As I teach Tech Ed courses, which are historically male dominate, I find it alarmingly evident that there is a lack of female participation in certain areas of STEM. If you walk into any of our science classrooms you will find that they have a pretty even male/female ratio, slightly less in math, and pretty bad in the technology/engineering conglomerate. So what do we do to fix the problem? Well, there are two good approaches. In school and out of school inspiration.

Many schools, including ours, have specific organizations designed to promote female interest in STEM areas. Two of ours are:

TWIST – TWIST encourages the spread of information about STEM careers for women. Our monthly speaker program allows students to learn about science career opportunities as well as here experiences from women in these fields of research.

TJ Gems – To increase female interest and participation in engineering, math, and science. Since many girls lose confidence or interest in these fields during middle school, we show them that they can be successful in these areas and encourage them to pursue math, science, and technology in higher education and careers. As positive role models and mentors, we provide weekly tutoring and hands-on science activities for girls at Glasgow Middle School.

Outside of school inspiration can be just as effective………and where I really believe that rockstars like Limor Fried are going to change the future. As the current generation of scientists and engineers begin to retire and the future, more DIVERSE begin to take their place, I have to believe we will see a gradual increase in female enrollment.

With regards to projects…….it’s a bit tough. Not only are you messing with a history of sociological and psychological speed bumps, but you need to break the stigma that STEM is taboo…..which is just plain stupid. Speaking first hand, the girls that enter my class PREDOMINATELY DO BETTER then the boys. I attribute this to the fact that the girls tend to be more meticulous and deliberate with their designs. They take their time and focus on detail, while the boys tend to “jump right in” (build first and design later.)

I happen to teach two elective courses. Conventional and Alternative Energy Systems. The first focuses on investigating the engineering principles that govern things like the internal combustion engine, aerodynamics and flight, hot air balloons, and jet engine technology and the population tends to be mostly boys. The second course (run in the same fashion as the first) focuses on the engineering principles that govern biofuel, solar technology, wind power, alternative vehicle technology, and fuel cells. This course tends to be closer to 50/50 girl/boy. Why? I really don’t know, but it could be as simple as the student population knowing that more girls take Alternative over Conventional.

In the meantime, we just need to keep promoting female enrollment and producing a classroom environment that is interesting to everyone!

Next up is Eric with a question about teaching STEM concepts to kindergarden, 1st and 2nd graders!

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“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.

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