By Abbie Carnes
Elementary Education Major, College of Education
By Meredith Critchfield, PhD
Faculty, College of Education
Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Esther Lenderberg, Chien-Shiung Wu, Lise Meitner, Nettie Stevens; these all are names of female scientists who were not recognized for their outstanding discoveries. Tensions still run high with women working in the STEM field today.
We believe that young girls are our future nurses, doctors, engineers, astronauts, geologists and writers. There is no limit to what a girl can do if she can learn to think this way from the time that she is young. It may be impossible for girls to see themselves in STEM and for our society to shift the numbers of women in STEM careers unless teachers provide them with exposure to some of the portraits and voices of women who have made it in these fields.
Teachers like us can help break down social barriers by being intentional about the connection between STEM and girls in the classroom. Here are a few strategies we recommend to welcome young girls into the STEM fields:
- Establish confidence in young women. By incorporating STEM texts into lesson plans, young girls will grow curious about seeing what it takes to work in the field. Most of the time girls are interested in partaking in clubs such as robotics, but are too shy to speak up. Female educators can support a young girl’s interests by attending her student’s event or by becoming a club leader. (Yes teachers, it does takes a lot of time, but there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student smile because you decided to take an extra step!)
- Ask girls higher-level questions and hold high expectations for their answers. It is wise to level the playing field by calling on girls just as much as boys in all By creating a safe place for students to express their thoughts appropriately and freely, confidence will flood the classroom.
- Incorporate children’s picture books, chapter books and informational articles highlighting women in STEM. These stories can open up the windows of STEM for young girls. After all, we only can manifest what we can imagine. Here are a few stories that are worth sharing in the classroom:
The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca. This picture book highlights the journey of Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who, despite challenges, transformed into one of the world’s foremost animal scientists and livestock experts. This book is great for ages 5-9 and would be perfect to integrate into a unit on animals or inventions.
Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly. This chapter book from New York Times bestselling author Margot Lee Shetterly follows the story of four female African-American mathematicians who crunched numbers and helped send rocket ships and astronauts into space in the face of gender biases and Civil Rights-era discrimination. This book is recommended ages 8-13. Hidden Figures would fit nicely into units on mathematics, space or the Civil Rights era. If you are looking for additional books on female scientists, we recommend that you check out the blog “A Mighty Girl.” By standing together, we as educators can break down society’s standards of what the “ideal” workplace is for a woman. Young girls have the power to influence each other through their thoughts and feelings. Positive self-image starts a chain reaction that overpowers society’s standards of “pretty.” Just as we have learned for ourselves as women, young girls need to learn to be pretty… pretty smart, kind, thoughtful and brave in order to bring their ideas to life in STEM and speak up for those who feel as if they are not heard.
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More About Abbie
Abbie Carnes is a junior at Grand Canyon University. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and believes that learning is the key to success. She has a strong passion for writing, drawing, reading and music. She is also a writer for Her Campus at GCU and has 22 published articles. She also has a personal faith-based blog called Pesky Imperfections. Even with her strong tendency to wander, God always directs her paths towards his goodness.
More About Meredith DeCosta, PhD
Meredith DeCosta is a former public school teacher and current faculty member, researcher and writer at Grand Canyon University. Her work focuses on literacy education, teaching English as a second language and educational equity in urban, multicultural contexts. She has written more than 12 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and has a co-authored a book with Columbia University’s Teachers College Press, titled “Real World Writing for Secondary Students.” Dr. DeCosta’s most recent award for her work is the Grand Canyon University Leadership in Research and Scholarly Activity Award.