Free webinar: The voices of girls & women and the future of STEM

Girl Scout Research Institute STEMinar: The voices of girls & women and the future of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

When: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Time: 2PM EDT (time in your time zone)

This “STEMinar” will bring together experts from diverse backgrounds and different sectors of the STEM work force to speak about the current status of girls’ interest and engagement in STEM fields, as well as current efforts to diversify the STEM workforce by boosting the number of women in STEM careers in the next decade.

We will highlight new research from the Girl Scout Research Institute, along with exciting new mentoring initiatives from Women@NASA, science education programs from the New York Academy of Sciences, and outreach efforts to college STEM majors from Johns Hopkins University.

Reserve your Webinar seat now!

Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (2012)

White girls can’t do math, teachers say

From NCWIT (National Council of Women in IT) –

Did you know that a recent study using data on 15,000 students from the National Center of Education Statistics found that teachers consistently rate girls as less good at math than boys, even with similar grades and test scores? Researchers in the study found that while on average teachers rate minority students lower than their white male counterparts, these differences disappear once grades are taken into account. However, they found patterns of bias against white girls that can’t be explained by their academic performance. According to one of the study’s authors, the misconception that white girls can’t handle math persists “Because the idea that men and women are different in this regard is considered natural, and not discriminatory.” At the same time, teachers may be more aware of race and ethnicity – and the problems of racial discrimination – than they are when it comes to gender.

Why are High School Teachers Convinced that White Girls Can’t Do Math? –

The research (the abstract is free at least) – Exploring Bias in Math Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Ability by Gender and Race/Ethnicity – University of Texas at Austin

Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

The Girl Scout Research Institute has released Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (2012).

Generation STEM is a national research report investigating girls’ perceptions, attitudes, and interests in the subjects and general field of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from the voices of girls themselves. The report consists of a literature review, as well as qualitative (focus group) and quantitative (survey) research with 1,000 girls across the United States.

The study finds that girls are interested in STEM and aspire to STEM careers, but need further exposure and education about what STEM careers can offer, and how STEM can help girls make a difference in the world.

Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (2012). Check out this page for the free download, a place to order a print copy, and a nice PDF summary of the full report. The summary would make a great topic of conversation with teachers, school board members, or a parent group!


Beyond Pink and Blue

In “Beyond Pink and Blue” on the blog site for The Nation magazine, author Dana Goldstein writes about children and gender norms. She quoted me for a part of the article about tinkering, and how that kind of hands on learning helps students grasp scientific concepts.

Sylvia Martinez, an expert on educational technology, has written about how all children need to reinforce math and science concepts through “tinkering”—interacting with the physical world, as opposed to just learning at their classroom desks. (For example: collecting water samples to test pH levels, or reinforcing math concepts by learning basic computer coding.) It doesn’t work, Martinez says, “to explain everything to kids without them having any basis in experience. I’m trying to expand the idea of ‘tinkering.’ It’s not just going down to the basement and playing with stuff. You can play with data, ideas, equations, programming.”

Parents can foster this type of experimentation at home, but schools should also do their part. The problem is that in an age of increased focus on standardized test scores in reading and math, many schools are canceling computing and science courses or cutting down lab time.

“We’ve created math and science in school as very abstract,” Martinez says. “We’ve taken away a lot of hands-on experiences from kids in favor of testing. We’ve reduced a lot of science to vocabulary, where kids are being given vocabulary tests about the ocean instead of going to the ocean or looking through a microscope at organisms. If we taught baseball the way we taught science, kids would never play until they graduated.”

I’m really glad she got the idea in there that tinkering goes beyond “stuff” and extends into playing with concepts too. I also am glad that the conversation is about “what’s good for kids”, not just “what’s good for girls.”

I’ll be exploring that topic a bit more in the coming months, it’s been on my mind a lot lately!



Infographic: Why Students Choose STEM


From – Why Students Choose STEM

Note that games, toys, books, and clubs are a huge reason student pick STEM majors and ultimately careers.

Could this be because typical US STEM curriculum doesn’t do a good job at inspiring excitement and passion about science, technology, engineering and math? That student interest and aptitude is there, but we just have to stop boring them to death with vocabulary lists and memorizing equations? Hmm… I wonder…


PS – Stretching the graphic like this makes some of the areas overlap, but at least it’s somewhat readable. But be sure to take a look at the original and the PDF report for lots more information.

Stereotype Threat – why it matters

Recently I attending the National Council of Women in IT (NCWIT) Summit on Women and IT: practices and ideas to revolutionize computing (I wrote about my session presentation here – Tinkering and STEM – good for girls, good for all.)

The summit kicked off with a wonderful keynote by Joshua Aronson who is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at New York University (NYU). Aronson studies stereotypes, self-esteem, motivation, and attitudes. He showed some remarkable research results that showed that when people are reminded of their race or gender in a testing situation where there is a negative stereotype, they do worse on the test.

This is called Stereotype Threat – which he defined as being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group. The threat causes anxiety, and all kinds of measurable changes – from the brain to heart rate, and also greatly impacts test results.

Simply putting a box to mark gender, for example, at the front of a math test significantly changed test scores – for both men and women. Compared to a test where gender was not asked for, if gender was asked for at the beginning of a test, boy’s scores went up, girls’ scores went down. If gender was asked at the end, boys’ scores went down, girls’ scores went up.

Seriously, that was the only difference – there was no mention of the stereotype (boys are good at math, girls are not). The only change was the position of the request for gender identification.

The implication that such a casual, seemingly inconsequential reminder of a possible stereotype  had a HUGE impact says that there is much we do not know about testing.

It implies that assessing human knowledge is not that well understood. It also implies that much of what we think we are testing may be a false reflection. It may have a lot more to do with the context of the individual and the environment than a true assessment of learning.

And it’s not just about knowledge either. He shared a study where white college students increased their jump height over several attempts when tested by a white test monitor – but when a black test monitor gave the same tests, the stereotype “white men can’t jump” became real. The racial/gender makeup of the classroom, the test giver, or even the environmental clues can change everything.

This wasn’t just one research study, either. Aronson showed slide after slide of research that perceptions matter, and matter a lot. Some of this research is on his faculty bio page, lots more in the links below, and a good intro to his work is an ASCD Educational Leadership article – The Threat of Stereotype.

This article also has some great suggestions for reducing stereotype threat.

  • Talk about stereotype threat with students. This reduces anxiety that students may feel by acknowledging they are not alone in worrying about these things.
  • Teach students that intelligence and ability is not inborn and that they can work to do better. They are not limited by stereotypes that restrict what they can do. Talk openly about stereotypes and show that they aren’t true.
  • Build a cooperative classroom environment, not a competitive one. “…cooperative classroom structures in which students work interdependently typically produce immediate and dramatic gains in minority students’ grades, test scores, and engagement because such environments reduce competition, distrust, and stereotyping among students.” – The Threat of Stereotype

Further reading:


PS The best thing he said in the keynote was something like, “The number one predictor of academic success is a student’s answer to the question – does your teacher like you?” Would love to find a real quote!

Tinkering and STEM – good for girls, good for all

I’m excited to be an invited panelist at the National Council of Women in IT (NCWIT) Summit on Women and IT: practices and ideas to revolutionize computing next week in New York City. The topic is Tinkering: How Might ‘Making Stuff’ Influence Girls’ Interest in STEM and Computing?… and I’m the “K-12” voice on the panel.

We were each asked to do an introductory 5 minutes to establish our point of view about these issues. I started with a slide deck I use about tinkering and technology literacy and managed to cut it down to about 20 minutes when I thought – why not share this version on Slideshare! So here it is.

School only honors one type of design and problem-solving methodology, the traditional analytical step-by-step model. It ignores other problem-solving styles that are more non-linear, more collaborative, more artistic, etc. These styles are seen as “messy” or “soft” with the implication that they are not reliable. However, who do we lose when we ignore, or worse, denigrate alternative styles of problem-solving. I think one answer may be “girls” but honestly, it’s broader than that. We lose all kinds of people who are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. And these are exactly the people I want solving the problems we face in the 21st century.

Teaching a tinkering model of problem-solving is good for girls because it’s good for everyone.