5 ways to support girls in STEM

Although girls and boys tend to take higher-level math and science courses at relatively the same rate, women represent less than 30 percent of the science and engineering workforce. The table below shows the percentage of women currently working in various STEM fields:

The table below shows the percentage of women currently working in various STEM fieldsSource: https://ngcproject.org/statistics

Clearly, there is work to be done to encourage girls to pursue opportunities in STEM. In honor of the International Day of Women & Girls in Science (February 11), here are 5 ways to support that in your classroom:

  1. 5 Ways to Support Girls in STEM Uncover your own hidden biases. Old gender norms die hard. A 2016 study by AERA found that teachers consistently rated males as higher performing in math than females with the same demonstrated level of achievement. Discovering your own biases is the first step. Project Implicit has developed a series of quick assessments help people uncover their own hidden biases. Log onto https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html and take the Gender-Science IAT to see if you unknowingly associate males with science and females with liberal arts. Then, try these techniques in your classroom:
  • Call on boys and girls equally, especially to model problems or explain thinking. Keep a class list divided by gender and check off students as you call on them to ensure an equal distribution.
  • Make sure all students can share their thoughts without interruption. Several studies have shown that men interrupt women more often than they interrupt other men. Encourage students to jot down questions or ideas and allow time to ask them once a student has finished speaking.
  1. Encourage open-ended problem solving. The gender gap increases the more an assessment varies from the taught curriculum. Due to social conditioning, boys may be more likely to take risks when solving a novel task, whereas girls tends to follow a more prescribed path. Try these techniques to encourage girls to take risks when problem solving:
  • Encourage students to model and explain multiple solution paths. Even if the approach doesn’t lead to the correct response, validate the critical thinking and risk-taking behind trying a new approach.
  • Provide novel, challenging “problems of the week.” Unique, multi-dimensional problems make it more difficult to follow a prescribed path, which pushes students to explore new approaches.
  • Provide girls with a safe space to explore. Check out this post about a teacher who started an after-school math club for girls.
  • Remove the stigma from “not getting it right.” Florida Teacher of the Year Diane McKee hosts “Failure Fridays,” where she shows clips of famous people describing the failures that preceded success.
  1. Tweet: There is work to be done to encourage girls to pursue opportunities in STEM. In honor of the International Day of Women & Girls in Science (February 11), here are 5 ways to support that in your classroom. https://ctt.ec/9l02u+ #edchat #STEM #education Develop visual/spatial reasoning. Strong visual/spatial reasoning has been linked to success in STEM. Provide students with opportunities to improve these skills in the following ways:
  • Develop students’ spatial reasoning vocabulary. Possessing strong language skills related to spatial reasoning (position words, transformational words, geometric attributes, etc.) increases spatial reasoning and understanding.
  • Give students spatial puzzles. Tangrams are great for this, either as actual manipulatives or online. You can find more spatial puzzles here.
  • Improve students’ map skills by exposing them to various types of maps across disciplines and having them create their own maps. Check out these mapping resources from National Geographic.
  • Help students make analogies to improve spatial, mathematical, and scientific reasoning. For example, have students wrestle with how a cell is like a city or how a coordinate grid is like a map.
  • Gesture when solving problems and encourage students to do the same. Using gestures to explain solutions and demonstrate visual reasoning has been shown to improve student understanding.
  1. Provide girls with role models. Whoopi Goldberg talks about the impact of seeing Lt. Uhura, an African-American woman, in the original Star Trek series:“Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on. I looked at it, and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”Studies show that women are more likely to do well in STEM classes and to pursue careers in STEM if they see examples of successful women in the field. This is especially true for women of color. The websites below feature historical and contemporary women in STEM:

For even more inspiration, host a career day, and contact local universities, labs, and tech centers to get powerful women role models into your classroom.

  1. Ban “smart” from your vocabulary. Emphasize that hard work, practice, and perseverance – not innate ability – lead to success. It is common for girls to think they lack natural ability in math or science. Instead of telling students they are “smart,” recognize their effort and persistence and educate parents to do the same at home.

What steps do you take to encourage girls in STEM? Share your stories with us on Facebook or Twitter!


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