In the past several years, educators and parents have been participating in a national conversation about the barriers that prevent young women and girls from pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The discussion is encouraging, says renowned educator Dr. Freda Deskin, herself a finalist in NASA’s “Teacher-in-Space” project as well as a champion of STEM educational opportunities for female students, but of course we need to do more than just talk about the topic.
What are some ways that parents and teachers can bring the sciences alive for young women? How can they incorporate these subjects into daily interactions? What steps can we take, on an everyday basis, to ensure that girls and women aren’t shut out of STEM fields before they even get their start? Dr. Freda Deskin has some surprisingly simple solutions for showing girls that STEM is for them.
1. Give STEM “Edutainment” Equal Opportunity
Every teacher knows that the best way to educate is often to entertain. So make sure that girls get plenty of time to read books about technology topics, suggests Dr. Freda Deskin. Watch videos that make science simply fascinating, and learn about the way mathematics informs every aspect of our daily existence.
When holidays roll around, consider a subscription box that helps girls learn physics or engineering. Suggest that relatives gift chemistry sets, robot-building kits, rock tumblers, or other presents that aren’t dolls or makeup sets.
2. Do a Little Learning Yourself
Quick: name 5 famous female scientists — who aren’t Marie Curie. How’d you do? Unless you are interested or involved in STEM yourself, you may not be familiar with some of the pioneering women who blazed trails for today’s female scientists and engineers. Fortunately, it’s easy to change that, says Dr. Freda Deskin.
Head to the local library and pick up some biographies or collections of stories about STEM pioneers who just happened to be women. You can find books that you and your daughter or students can enjoy together. Don’t forget to discuss what you’ve learned.
3. Help Her Get Hands-On
Let your little girl roll up her sleeves and dive right in — the earlier, the better. Negative perceptions about ability in tech and math start young, unfortunately, so do what you can to counter those. Teach toddlers to count and add at every turn throughout your day. Build a backyard trebuchet together, or bake a batch of cookies to learn some simple chemistry. Or let your machine-minded second-grader take apart an old desktop computer to see how it ticks.
One of the easiest ways to encourage young girls to learn STEM lessons, Dr. Freda Deskin says, is by saying “yes” to her curiosity whenever possible.
If you are a woman in the STEM fields, or an educator whose focus or specialty is in one of these subjects, we’d love to hear from you! What are your best tips for helping girls get excited — and stay confident — about studying science and math? Let us know in the comments or connect with us on social media!