As careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) continue to expand, experts are still concerned about the gender gap that exists in these fields. While the National Science Foundation finds that boys’ and girls’ performance in some STEM topics is pretty even during K–12 education, disparities begin in college and deepen at the career level.
Similar to how schools are mitigating skill gaps by teaching future-ready skills at the youngest level, they can do the same by empowering young women with STEM skills.
1. Rethink How You Discuss Coding
One of the biggest successes in recruiting girls to STEM occurred with the increase of girls taking an AP Computer Science exam. This was due largely to a new reimagined computer science class called AP Computer Science Principles, which views computing through a creative and collaborative lens.
In just the first year of the course, 29,708 girls took the exam, representing a 100 percent increase. By making computer science less intimidating, more young women are engaged by the topic.
Another way to do this is to teach young learners computational thinking — using logical, computer-like thinking to solve problems. Sixth-grade computer science teacher Sheena Vaidyanathan tells EdTech that even kindergarten teachers teach computational thinking when they educate their students on how to solve problems using a step-by-step process.
“If you can formalize the problem-solving you already do, you can write out the steps for a computer to execute,” she says in the article.
Vaidyanathan recommends asking students to collect data using an accessible classroom technology like Google Sheets and then exploring how the spreadsheet uses code to analyze that data.
2. Put an Emphasis on Tech Role Models
Largely, experts agree that a big reason girls don’t think they can enter STEM careers is because they aren’t finding the appropriate role models.
“The most important thing, in terms of affecting girls’ choices and self-concept, is role modeling,” says Vanessa Vakharia, who runs The Math Guru tutoring studio, in a Huffington Post article. “One of my favorite sayings is ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’”
Instead, schools can celebrate things like Ada Lovelace Day (the second Tuesday of October) and teach girls about the first computer programmer. If she could do it in the 1800s, they can do it now.
Skype in the Classroom can also help educators connect their students to a female STEM innovator.
3. Encourage Real-World Problem-Solving
AP Computer Science Principles is successful because it humanizes computer science by adding elements of collaboration and creativity. STEM in general benefits when schools add real-world problem-solving into the mix, but girls benefit even more from this kind of learning.
New research found that when project-based learning was used in science class, girls outperformed boys and brought that real-world engagement into their other classes.