GEMS of STEM
Hi, my name is Michelle Higgins. I am on staff with the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona and I am passionate about bringing science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, experiences to girls and women of all ages. I have degrees in mathematics and physics and am working on a PhD in gender and the mathematics classroom.
I often talk with adults who want to know how to get their girls excited in STEM when they themselves are not a science or math person. So, I wanted to share some exemplary practices from the SciGirls Seven as a first step in engaging girls in STEM. You might notice that they sound familiar to the three Girl Scout leadership keys - Discover, Connect and Take Action- and the three processes - Girl-Led, Learn by Doing, and Cooperative learning - from the Girl Scout Leadership Experience:
- Girls benefit from collaboration. Think of the cooperative learning environment of a troop. It is not one girl exploring on her own, but a group of girls learning how to make group decisions, deciding on which approach to use, and what to do with their new found knowledge.
- Girls are motivated by projects they find personally relevant and meaningful. When we allow girls to take a leadership position and decide what is interesting and relevant to them, they are motivated to follow through.
- Girls enjoy hands-on, open-ended projects and investigations. When setting up activities for girls, it is important to have a hands-on component, providing lots of options for exploration. Instead of exact step-by-step instructions, allow girls to determine how they will approach a solution and to determine when they have reached the desirable outcome.
- Girls are motivated when they can approach projects in their own way, applying creativity, unique talents, and preferred learning styles. When girls have an opportunity to guide their own explorations, they discover their own passions.
- Girls’ confidence and performance improves in response to specific positive feedback on things they can control-such as effort, strategy, and behaviors. Volunteer leaders can help girls better understand their potential in STEM fields when we acknowledge that successes are gained through hard work and practice. Comments, such as, “Your strategy seems well thought out”, or “I like how the group’s work is documented, even with the ideas that did not lead to the solution you were looking for”, will reinforce the process rather than simply knowing the answer. On the other hand, comments, such as, “You got it right, you must be smart in math”, sends a message that a girl has STEM potential because of an ability she was born with, not because she practiced it.
- Girls gain confidence and trust in their own reasoning when encouraged to think critically. Placing emphasis on the processes of engineering design and the method of scientific exploration, and de-emphasizing the end result will help girls to understand how much they learn, even when their project does not come out just as planned.
- Girls benefit from relationships with role models and mentors. Inviting college students, young professionals, and senior STEM professionals to troop meetings is a great way to introduce girls to women in STEM career fields. When girls have a clearer idea of what a STEM career path looks like, they can envision that career path for themselves.
It is not necessary to incorporate all seven practices at once. Start with one or two and give it a try!
Looking for a project to try it with? I love the Puff Mobile. You can find it here at the PBS Zoom website. This activity allows girls to create a car from paper, straws, Life-Savers, and tape that is powered by alternative energy. It is a great engineering design project that complements all level of Journeys from the series Its Your Planet – Love it! If you want to scale it up for older girls, consider the materials you provide. Supplying battery-operated mini-fans (like those found in many dollar stores) will spark the girls’ creative thinking. Remember, the sky is the limit when girls take the lead!