STEM for Girls
It is well documented that women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Studies show that a high percentage of young girls are interested in STEM topics, but that interest dwindles as these girls grow older. Far fewer young women choose STEM majors in college and even less pursue STEM careers.
The DNA of a “STEM girl” sets her apart. Compared to those who don’t like STEM, STEM girls have a higher interest overall in academics, including non-STEM subjects like social studies and foreign languages. They have higher confidence in their academic abilities and are better able to grapple with adversity and overcome obstacles.
How do we encourage young girls and cultivate an interest in STEM? How can we help them maintain that enthusiasm so they feel they can choose a STEM career? Research indicates that the key is to provide girls with hands-on STEM experiences to help encourage curiosity.
“Hands-on STEM experiences” might sound intimidating. Do I need to memorize the periodic table with my STEM girl? Read my old calculus textbook with her? No, it isn’t quite so complicated. There are lots of hands-on opportunities out there – you just have to know where to look!
1. Start at Home
Some great hands-on STEM experiences are probably sitting in your home right now. There are many game-based learning activities and products available to help engage your STEM girl. Play simple games like Connect Four, Set, Chess and Checkers. These games can also be found online as apps. There are also lots of tablet puzzle games and apps STEM girls can play such as Tower of Hanoi, Mastermind Code Breaker, Tetris and Ken Ken. Such games challenge a child’s ability to analyze and problem solve, an important skill that STEM girls will need throughout life.
2. Take Advantage of Area Museums
Massachusetts has some of the best cultural institutions that can provide kids with hands-on STEM experiences. Recently, Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum had the amazing “Strandbeest” exhibit, which was a fascinating combination of art and engineering. Keep an eye out for exciting new exhibits like this, or just check out the great permanent exhibits at the Museum of Science and Children’s Museum in Boston, the MIT Museum in Cambridge, The Discovery Museums in Acton, The Ecotarium in Worcester and many others. Take as many opportunities as you can to bring your STEM girl to these exhibits, which are designed to provide the exact kind of hands-on experiences that help foster a passion for STEM.
3. Seek Out Camps, Clubs and Classes
It is a great time to be a kid. There are more STEM-focused camps, clubs and classes available than ever before. Legos, Minecraft, computer programming, robotics, ecology – the list goes on and on. You can find a group that will explore an interest area for your STEM girl and give her the chance to be with other kids who share her passion.
4. Let Your Daughter Shadow a STEM Professional Woman
If you are guiding your STEM girl toward a possible STEM career, one of the most powerful experiences you can offer is to have her “shadow” a woman working in a STEM career. Spending part of a day with a professional woman, seeing her in action, will really show your STEM girl what is possible.
It is so important to support your daughter’s interest in STEM. Girls like to understand how things work, they like to solve puzzles and problems, and they enjoy hands-on experiences that enable them to ask questions and pursue answers. By cultivating your STEM girl’s interest in STEM topics, you are helping point her toward a bright, exciting future, and chances are you will both have a lot of fun exploring the world of STEM along the way.
Stephanie Murray is a co-owner at Zaniac Learning in Woburn, an education enrichment center focusing on STEM subjects for kids.