Women and girls are historically underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and much has been written lately about why girls in school seem disinterested in these areas.
As STEM becomes more important in our increasingly interconnected global society, it becomes even more imperative that educators find ways to encourage girls to participate in these fields.
A few weeks ago, researchers at the Universities of Pittsburgh and Michigan released the results of a study that reflected many girls’ antipathy toward all things STEM. The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, tracked about 1500 college-bound students over a decade and found that more women had the highest scores on both the math and the verbal portion of the SAT test than their male counterparts. These women were more likely to pursue non-STEM careers after graduation even though they excelled in those fields in school. As the principal researcher of the study, Ming-Te Wang, summarizes, “This highlights the need for educators and policy makers to shift the focus away from trying to strengthen girls’ STEM-related abilities and instead tap the potential of these girls who are highly skilled in both the math and verbal domains to go into STEM fields.” We couldn’t agree more.
As educators in a STEM-focused high school, we come in contact with intellectually gifted female scientists every day–albeit young ones. We also know there aren’t enough of them. As a school, we struggle to attract young women who want to attend an engineering-focused high school in the first place. In our time here, we’ve never had more girls than boys in any given class. Too often, our gender ratio is lopsided. We know that this is not a result of ability. As the Pittsburg-Michigan study showed, and what we experience every day in our classrooms, is that there is no shortage of girls who could successfully pursue anything they wanted. The girls in our school are brilliant and many do pursue careers in STEM-related fields. However, some choose not to, and other smart girls never even make it through our front door. Why not?
Perhaps girls with high verbal scores choose careers other than STEM because their passion hasn’t been kindled in those classes. We know it is not the fault of their teachers but a problem of process. For many schools, arts and sciences are rarely ever integrated. Teachers are kept apart with little time to collaborate.
If integration does happen, it is usually the humanities teacher looking to include aspects of STEM in their courses. The recent adoption of the Common Core Standards by forty-five states calls for more integration between subjects. However, ask most humanities teachers and they will tell you that they are being told to integrate STEM content into their classes, removing literature for nonfiction, rather than being given the opportunity to collaborate with their STEM counterparts. Integration is wonderfully effective and certainly the future of education but it is a two-way street. We think schools should use reciprocal integration between the arts and sciences to capture the imagination of these top female students.
How many engineering teachers include a fiction book like Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano in their syllabi? Do many math teachers analyze the intricacies of M. C. Escher’s artwork with their students or read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo? How many science teachers read aloud the poetic observations of Dr. David George Haskell? Do many biology teachers share the story of the HeLa cells? We think ideas like these should be a part of all STEM curricula. And experts agree. The Next Generation Science Standards, released for public discussion last week, ask teachers to show students how insights from many disciplines fit together into a coherent picture of the world. And we believe that incorporating more storytelling into science can help do this.
Research has shown that storytelling activates the brain beyond mere word recognition.
via Scientific American – Anna Kuchment
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