How Educators Can Encourage More Girls in STEM
In a time where Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is at an all-time high, women and girls are still pursuing these fields at a stagnant rate. And it’s not due to a lack of interest–student interest in STEM peaks in middle school. However, 60% of girls who enjoyed STEM before 9th grade no longer have serious interest by graduation–despite performing on par with or enrolling in advanced science and math courses at equal rates as their male peers.
So, why is the STEM gap continuing to affect girls today? Three reasons consistently stand out: encouragement, classroom engagement, and representation.
Educators have a unique position to unlock opportunities for the next generation of female scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.
And it starts in the classroom…
Confidence is key
Establishing a classroom culture that instills confidence is beneficial for any learning environment. Students are more likely to ask questions, stretch their curiosity, and foster a growth mindset.
- Embrace persistence. By celebrating effort and perseverance rather than just innate ability, teachers can help students understand that challenges and mistakes are a natural part of the learning process.
- Prioritize Collaboration. Group-based projects help students to learn from each other, support one another, share ideas, and see different ways of thinking.
- Reflect with Positive, Constructive Feedback. Acknowledging students’ achievements, no matter how small, boosts their self-esteem and motivates them to take on more challenging tasks.
- Challenge Stereotypes. Inclusive classrooms that value female opinions and celebrate the stories of women in STEM are crucial for maintaining girls’ interest in these subjects.
Engaged students are inspired students
When students are fully engaged in their learning, they can take on any challenge. This is especially true for girls, who may often struggle to see themselves as effective problem solvers. Such active participation helps break down these barriers.
During STEM lessons, girls tend to gravitate towards hands-on, project-based activities–especially ones that encourage creativity, reflect real-world problems, and allow them to take the lead in their own learning.
With classroom partners like BrainPOP Science, middle school students (an age when STEM interest is the highest for both boys and girls) can access science and engineering best practices in a unique, engaging way through immersive investigations and hands-on engineering projects. The platform allows students to approach real-world problems, such as climate change or sustainability, like real scientists and engineers–all while strengthening critical-thinking and evidence-based reasoning skills and fostering a sense of capability and confidence.
Elevate more female voices into your lessons
Currently, women make up just 28% of the STEM workforce in the United States (with Latina, Black, and Indigenous women representing even less), yet an estimated 65% of the jobs that today’s youth will undertake do not exist yet–making STEM education essential for all students.
When students can see themselves in your lessons, they engage more deeply in the subject matter and envision a future in similar roles. Let’s introduce them. Bring Sally Ride into your astronomy lessons, Alice Ball when discussing compounds and mixtures, Eugenie Clark when marine life is top of mind, or many more.
One step at a time
Empowering girls to take their place as fellow leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will take more than one lesson. It requires consistent engagement and encouragement to pave the way for a more achievable future in STEM.
STEM Women: Women in STEM USA Statistics
United Nations: International Day of Women and Girls in Science
EVERFI: Is STEM Interest Fading with Students?
National Girls Collaborative Project: State of Girls and Women in STEM
Girl Scout Research Institute: Generation STEM
Jordan Bremus-Wyles is the social media lead at BrainPOP, with a Bachelor’s in English and Journalism. She is a youth advocate and mom of two.