STEM education for girls: what's next?
If you've ever had the opportunity to see Mollie Strozier's i4 kids in action or stop by Briley Hedrick's Geometry class after a project, you've seen the intersection of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Mollie describes her class as "amazing things with duct tape and cardboard," but it's so much more. Students draft schematics and create prototypes of everything from dream house floor plans to the better boat design in a sink-or-float style challenge. The adventures often begin with presentation of a problem, something that STEM can help solve. Either individually or in groups, the students then think critically and creatively about the best way to meet the objectives of the challenge. Then, they get to work drawing, cutting, gluing, taping, stapling, and bringing their designs to reality.
Across the courtyard, Briley has found ways to make the abstract nature of Algebraic problem-solving real for a group of concrete-thinking adolescents. "They do extraordinary work when you give them the parameters and just let their brains run wild." Early in the year, Briley had students design miniature golf courses with specific requirements regarding size of reflection angles. Reflection is a way to teach complementary and supplementary angles. As the class approached mid-term exams, the each student constructed a three-dimensional Moravian star. Each were hung on display from the ceiling of the classroom. From 2D to 3D, geometry comes to life as math gets infused with hands-on science, technology, and engineering.
Why is STEM so important for girls? There is an old stereotype that girls are worse at science and math than boys. Often, when polled, girls feel that they are doing worse in science and math than they actually are, and boys often feel the reverse. The lack of confidence, fear of failure, and ungrounded optimism of the boys can often discourage girls from pursuing STEM fields or careers.
Creative and critical thinking is an anchor of successful problem-solving. The quantity and quality of the problems facing contemporary society are a challenge. Creativity emerges from heterogeneity. The more diverse and different the people around the table the more likely a new and innovative solution will arise. By eliminating girls from STEM fields or careers, we lose 50% of the creative brain power to tackle the world's new and complex problems.
Hands-on science, coding, design, and engineering are all excellent avenues for exploring STEM. Summer camps, project-based work, and independent studies provide avenues for girls to be encouraged and find their voice through STEM-based passions.