Last year, Google's workplace demographic report showed that there is still a long way to go before we see gender equality in the STEM workforce. Just 18% of Google's technical employees were women, of about 56,000 employees worldwide. What's worse, is that this number is one of the highest in the tech industry. Furthermore, only 13% of engineers are women, revealing a staggering inequality in the field. Not only are companies hiring few women for STEM positions, fewer women are going into these fields than men in the first place, resulting in a small talent pool. A big part of changing gender inequality in the STEM fields starts in the classroom—with getting girls excited to take part in science and math. In 2011, youth advocacy compelled the United Nations to declare October 11th International Day of the Girl. To help the girls in your classes get excited about taking part in STEM fields, here are some tools you can use to engage your students.
Activities are a perfect way to build engagement because they don't involve rote memorization or practice—they're active and promote critical thinking. One type of activity that can be used in the classroom to prepare students for higher education in STEM are Model-Eliciting Activities (MEAs). The features of an MEA are:
- Model-eliciting: students need to build a model to solve a problem
- Open-ended: allows for creativity and multiple solutions
- Generalizable: can be used for all STEM fields
- Realistic: relates to a real problem or scenario students can understand and connect with
- Self-Assessable: students must be able to analyze and critique their own work
Examples of MEAs include creating a spam filter or creating a fair judgment system for a paper airplane contest. These types of activities encourage the way of thinking required for STEM fields and simultaneously engage girls. These activities also provide positive experiences in science and math that will help foster their interest in these industries.
Giving girls access to digital tools that will allow them to build skills, like programming, is key to getting them excited about STEM. Because technology is so intertwined in our daily lives, getting early opportunities to explore and learn how to use these relevant skills is highly beneficial to building engagement and persistence in pursuing STEM studies.
Introducing Role Models
Unfortunately, women haven't always been given due credit for the amazing discoveries they've made and were often brushed off when they spoke up about a revolutionary idea. Introducing girls to these heroes can be a great way to get them interested in STEM fields. Women like Rosalind Franklin, a British chemist who took the earliest images of the DNA strand's double helix shape, or Ada Lovelace, who laid the groundwork for early programming are both great examples. Some ideas for incorporating these role models in the classroom might include making a point of studying less well-known female mentors and incorporating their work into activities and reports. Some schools have successfully launched mentoring programs as well, which help girls learn what options they have and the benefits of studying a STEM subject.
Why it's Important: Gender Equality, Innovation, and the Pay Gap
Many girls are interested in STEM fields but often find that bias dissuades them from pursuing related careers. We need to get girls dedicated to building careers in STEM—not just for equality in the workforce, but wage equality as well. Women make up 50% of the population, and we're currently missing out on a great deal of potential innovation that could be gained with equal representation in the STEM fields. In fact, STEM fields are more lucrative, with women earning 33% more in these occupations than in non-STEM jobs. Encouraging more women to join fields like engineering can even help in closing the wage gap. This International Day of the Girl, get ready to help your students succeed in STEM!