Our Focus and Program
Teacher education, mentoring, partnerships
Sharing Solutions: Advancing Girls in STEM brought together 120 invited educators from the K-12 and higher education settings, policy makers and senior-executive industry leaders. Two major voices in STEM advocacy gave keynote addresses to kick off the Think Tank, followed by a day of small group discussions of identified issues in the participation and persistence of girls and women in STEM.
There are many factors that contribute to the phenomenon known as the “leaky pipeline” in STEM. Unconscious biases, cultural and societal influences, social pressures, and historical disadvantages are only a few possible reasons why women are not prominently represented in STEM fields. Since time together was limited, we focused on three defined themes that research has shown to have a positive impact on girls’ interest and persistence in STEM.
- Preparation of teachers at each educational level
- Power of mentors in the lives of girls and women in STEM fields
- Importance of partnerships across industries to combine resources and expand opportunities
Together, teachers and curriculum play a crucial role in the intellectual lives of their students. While teachers are not always directly responsible for designing their own curricula, they are all responsible for interpreting and delivering them. Therefore, it is important that curriculum design and teacher preparation--and how they impact girls in STEM--are examined together.
The President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology, states “The most important factor in ensuring excellence is great STEM teachers, with both deep content knowledge in STEM subjects and mastery of the pedagogical skills required to teach these subjects well” (Holderen, Lander & Varmus, 2010, p. 12). More specifically, in the seminal report, Why So Few: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Hill, Corbett and Rose (2010) explain that teachers play a multifaceted role in engaging and retaining girls in STEM fields. According to the report, teachers play the dual role of helping girls both develop a belief that they belong in STEM fields and build the cognitive skills in spatial reasoning that they need for success and persistence.
Regarding curriculum, research demonstrates that girls who engage in curricula that explicitly teach spatial skills early are more likely to engage with STEM fields later in life (Holderen, Lander & Varmus, 2010). Similarly, STEM curricula that begin with application are more likely to capture student attention early and sustain interest later on (Hill, Corbett & Rose, 2010). The roles of teacher education and curriculum development, therefore, are crucial in both preparing girls cognitively for STEM fields but also for attracting and retaining those girls.
Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St Rose, A. (2010). Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. American Association of University Women. 1111 Sixteenth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.
Holdren, J., Lander, E., & Varmus, H. (2010). Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for America’s Future. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Washington, D.C.
Exposing girls at each stage of the pipeline to mentors and, in the early stages, to role models, is an essential component of increasing their participation and persistence in STEM fields. At early ages young girls need to see women in STEM fields in order to imagine themselves as physicists, computer programmers, mechanical engineers, and math teachers. Using data from from PISA 2006, Sikora and Pokropek (2011) find that across the globe, boys are more likely to aspire to careers in engineering and computing. Using these data, they posit that one major reason for differential career aspirations in these STEM fields is a lack of strong female role models.
Role models and mentors, like teachers, play a multi-faceted role in increasing participation and persistence in STEM and are important across the pipeline. Later in the pipeline, the focus shifts from role models to mentors, who mediate girls’ interactions with STEM professions (Liston, Peterson & Ragan, 2008). Mentors are particularly important in increasing girls’ self-efficacy, or helping them to gain confidence in their own abilities, because they provide the safe environment, vicarious experience, and positive feedback that build self-efficacy (Kerr & Robinson Kurpius, 2004).
Recently, numerous nonprofit groups like Million Women Mentors (http://www.millionwomenmentors.org/) and Black Girls Code (http://www.blackgirlscode.com/) have been created to provide mentorship opportunities. The effectiveness of these programs and how best to expand them is also under-researched. Therefore, a stronger understanding about how to identify and prepare mentors and on how best to connect mentors with girls is needed.
Kerr, B., & Robinson Kurpius, S. E. (2004). Encouraging talented girls in math and science: Effects of a guidance intervention. High ability studies, 15(1), 85-102.
Liston, C., Peterson, K., & Ragan, V. (2008). Evaluating Promising Practices in Informal Information Technology (IT) Education for Girls. National Center for Women in Technology and Girl Scouts of the USA. Retrieved July, 30, 2008.
In order to effectively increase the participation and persistence of girls in STEM fields, it is essential that K-12 schools, colleges and universities and businesses build strong and active partnerships with each other. While partnerships work to support the other two themes of the conference through strengthening teachers and curriculum and providing mentors and role models, they do so so at an institutional level that has a much broader reach. In their report to President Obama, Holderen, Lander and Varmus (2010) explain, “achieving the Nation’s goals for STEM education in K-12 will require partnerships with state and local government and with the private and philanthropic sectors” (11).
Resources, crucially, are not limited to funding. Resources can mean access to mentors and equipment, additional personnel in the form of volunteers and the sharing of ideas between individuals from different perspectives (Downs & DeSouza, 2006; Mostache et al, 2013; Holderen, Lander & Varmus, 2010). In an analysis of effective STEM programs for girls, Mostache, et al. (2013) explain that one of the main benefits of partnership is the ability to “provide girls with experiences beyond their own neighborhoods” (22). In this way, partnerships allow for the application of skills and knowledge in a new context that provides a more real-world experience.
While partnership is clearly important because of the combined intellectual, human, and material resources, questions about best practices still remain. After extolling the benefits of partnerships for increasing persistence and participation of girls in STEM, Brotman and Moore (2008) provide an important question for future research: how might more effective partnerships be created between schools, universities, and community organizations?
Brotman, J. S., & Moore, F. M. (2008). Girls and science: A review of four themes in the science education literature. Journal of research in science teaching, 45(9), 971-1002.
Downs, R., & DeSouza, A. (2006). Learning to think spatially: GIS as a support system in the K-12 curriculum. Committee on the Support for the Thinking Spatially, National Research Council, Publisher: The National Academies Press, URL: http://books. nap. edu/catalog. php.
Holdren, J., Lander, E., & Varmus, H. (2010). Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for America’s Future. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Washington, DC.
Mosatche, H. S., Matloff-Nieves, S., Kekelis, L., & Lawner, E. K. (2013). Effective STEM Programs for Adolescent Girls: Three Approaches and Many Lessons Learned. Afterschool Matters, 17, 17-25.