Keeping Girls Engaged
Girls are considered a marginalized population in STEM because of their under-representation in STEM-related professions. In order to help diminish this gender gap, we've compiled some ways to keep girls engaged in STEM.
Highlight kids’ inclusion of others. Make inclusivity a shared goal in your setting, and tell students when they have done something inclusive. You can highlight their behavior with comments like, "I saw how you asked Angelina her idea; asking people what they think helps us build a great learning community, just like scientists." Consider setting aside time at the end of the activity to ask students to reflect on how well they included others in their learning. For example, you can ask students to share something that made them feel like a scientist or feel included in the activity.
Mind the materials. With young learners, talk about why it's important for everyone to work with science materials to test, build, design and play. Pre-teach students that even when they are excited to work with the materials they still have to share. Asking all students to take on some kind of role, like safety manager or measurer can help balance shy students’ participation.
Learn more about gender bias in science. There is little-to-no research evidence that girls and boys differ in their aptitudes toward science, but many people still hold (incorrect) biases that boys are better at science and math. These biases are subtle but powerful. The Harvard Project Implicit found that 70 percent of people still associate men with math and women with arts, despite the lack of evidence for this claim. Are you one of these 70 percent? Does your opinion influence how you respond to students' questions or direct science activities? Ask your colleagues to watch you teach and give you feedback on your interactions with different genders.
Consider teaching with positive female STEM characters. Using stories that include strong female characters allow girls to identify themselves with similar STEM-related careers. Try one of our favorite titles, and share your own in the comments section:
- Rosie Revere, Engineer
- Ada Twist, Scientist
- Magnificent Minds: 16 Pioneering Women in Science & Medicine
- Remarkable Minds: 17 More Pioneering Women in Science & Medicine
- Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women
For more information about gender biases in afterschool STEM spaces, read about some of the research that's been completed:
- How science journalism supports science literacy
- Girls’ science identity development in and out of school
- Girls with scientific aspirations: Negotiating femininity
- Challenging beliefs about gender and STEM engagement through crafting and circuitry
- How urban girls negotiate school science
- Negotiating Science Identities with Gender, Race, and Perceptions of Expertise Across Settings