Sunday, November 22, 2015

Encouraging STEM for Girls

Last Saturday, we had our inaugural Super STEM Saturday for Girls Only! event - 2 hours of exploring, discovering, and creating. It was great fun for the 50 or so girls and their parents who attended. We intentionally decided to focus on our girls because we knew that they would be overwhelmed if the boys were also participating.

Our keynote speaker was one of my former students. Jennifer Eugenio is now an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, and I was excited when she said she would be part of our inaugural Super STEM Saturday for Girls Only! Jennifer is young, smart, articulate, and a wonderful role model for our girls. She gave good advice to our young engineers:
  • Keep up your good grades
  • Get used to working in teams 
  • Explore and try new things 
  • Question everything 
  • Never be afraid to make mistakes 
I have three sons and two grandsons, and as an educator for 40+ years, I can tell you that boys and girls learn differently. Boys are more apt to dive in and try something rather than to plan it out first. If it doesn't work, they don't hesitate to take it apart and try again. Many of the girls at our STEM Saturday workshops were more methodical. They thought carefully before trying something. I watched some of them as they created their prototypes first, and I was struck by how much thinking and planning they did before actually constructing something. We had 15 different stations for the girls, and some of them only got through a third of those activities. In fact, that was a suggestion from parents who attended with their daughters: they asked that we plan a longer day because two hours was too short. 

According to the article, "Ask the Experts: How to Get Girls into STEM?" just 1 in 7 engineers is a female, and only 27% computer science jobs are held by women. I think our elementary school girls enjoy science, math, and engineering as much as our boys, but somewhere along the way, they decide that is not the profession they aspire to. Yet we know they can be successful. The other year, we had three fourth grade girls who made it to the World Championships; I hope that this experience might persuade them to continue to pursue this field of study. 

One of the great things about our Super STEM Saturday is that our girls had the opportunity to work with lots of female engineers and scientists. We had wonderful and enthusiastic female volunteers from the 130th Engineer BDE, The Links, Incorporated, students from Leilehua High School, and Leilehua Complex and Hale Kula teachers. I am confident that in the future, we can attract even more volunteers!

As a school system, we need to provide more opportunities for our students to be design-thinkers and problem-solvers. We should have materials available in every classroom for students to work collaboratively to create and construct and to re-think and re-design to make something better. We also need to encourage students to reflect on what they are doing and to understand that failure is just an opportunity to make something better. Too often, we, as adults, step in to try to help our children rather than let them learn from their own mistakes.

It is my hope that our girls will not be a minority if they decide to go into a STEM field when they are in college. Events like our Super STEM Saturday for Girls Only! will hopefully inspire our girls to realize all the opportunities available to them.

Here's a link to a Google presentation about our event. And yes, we will definitely have a STEM day for boys as well. Some of them are asking about it already!

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