Tag Archives: STEM

Engaging Girls in STEM: Gift Guide for Girls

from the Laurel Center for Research on Girls

With the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect time to think about gifts that engage and encourage girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Research shows that girls feel more excited about pursuing STEM topics when adults highlight the place of collaboration, tinkering, role models, and meaningful objectives in STEM fields. We’ve compiled some suggestions of STEM gifts that incorporate these principles. Remember, it’s never too early to introduce girls to STEM toys and activities!


Research shows that girls prefer and persevere more in collaborative STEM work. Teachers promote collaborative STEM work by pairing girls with varied or complementary skill sets, using small groups (no more than 3-4 girls) and mixing up groups and pairings often. To promote collaboration in free play, consider toys that lend themselves easily to playing together with a friend or two.

LCRG recommends: Roominate, Robot Turtles, Quirkle


Girls are less likely than boys to tinker with building materials, mechanical objects and computers. By tinkering less, girls miss out on opportunities to practice important skills such as spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning and critical thinking. Tinkering toys abound for girls of all ages.

LCRG recommends: LEGO, Rubik’s Cube, MagnaTiles, littleBits

Role Models

A dearth of female STEM role models may limit girls’ engagement in STEM activities. When girls lack exposure to female STEM role models, it reinforces negative stereotypes that some girls hold about STEM fields. New research shows that having girls write and reflect about their own female STEM role models increases their “sense of fit” in STEM. Consider some of the resources below to increase girls’ connection to female STEM role models.

LCRG recommends: Rosie Revere, Engineer, Women in Science Rule!, Black Stars: African American Women Scientists and Inventors, Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions, LCRG’s Famous Women of STEM Playing Cards

Meaningful Objectives

Girls value STEM work that holds clear and purposeful ties to everyday life. Female college students report a stronger desire than male college students to use their technical skills to help others. Toymakers have recently started incorporating this idea into STEM toys; here are some to consider:

LCRG recommends: GoldieBlox, K’NEX Investigating Solar Energy Set, StemBox

Additional Resources

For more fantastic gifts for girls, check out these sites:
A Mighty Girl
Fat Brain Toys

LCRG is found at https://www.laurelschool.org/page.cfm?p=625&LockSSL=true

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021; or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com 


+ Online Mentors to Guide Women Into the Sciences

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In an article in the New York Times, Tamar Lewin reports that hundreds of prominent women who work in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), will become online mentors for college students beginning in October.

This is part of a six-week program to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM fields.

According to Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, which is a sponsor of the project

I think of this as a MOOC — a massive open online course — and a big mentor-fest.  Getting more women into STEM is my passion in life, and every institution that’s set up mentoring programs for young women has been successful at increasing their numbers, so I think this can make a real difference.

But if it can be called a “course,” the program has no curriculum, no grades and no credit; the goal is simply to connect young students with accomplished women working in STEM fields.

Many prominent universities have signed on: California Institute of Technology, Cornell, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, the University of California and many more.  They are contributing mentors and are publicizing the program to students.

Women currently earn more college degrees than men over all.  But they lag in STEM fields, particularly computer science and engineering: in these fields they earn less than 20 percent of undergraduate degrees.

Dr. Klawe has lined up six prominent women as “lead mentors,” including Mae C. Jennison, the first black female astronaut; Jacqueline K. Barton, chairwoman of the chemistry department at Caltech; and Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s chief technology officer, as well as 300 nearly 300 other mentors.

Mentors will answer questions submitted by students at any of the universities participating in the project, which is known as Women in Technology Sharing Online, or WitsOn.

Visit https://piazza.com/witson

WitsOn will attempt to connect students who are interested to positions with mentors’ organizations.

In May, a test forum attracted more than 800 questions in a day.  Young women had a wide range of inquiries: “How sexist is programming?”  “How did you get where you are?” “Do you have time for your family?” “When is it right to correct misunderstandings about women in technology fields and when do you have to just let it slide?”

The web site notes that even if a school is not listed as a participant, any student can sign up: the schools that have signed on are committed to publicizing the program to their students, but everyone is welcome.

They suggest that students from other schools speak to a faculty member about nominating them.  The nomination process takes only 30 seconds, and is in place to ensure the quality of the conversation.

source: Tamar Lewin’s 9/16 article in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com and the WitsOn web site linked above.

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021, or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com  

+ The Maker Movement and STEM Education

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Margaret Honey and Eric Siegel feel that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning.

In an article in the Feb 2, 2011 Education Week, they explain that the movement has been spurred by the success of Make Magazine and its creation, Maker Faires.

According to Dale Dougherty, general manager of Make’s parent company O’Reilly Media, “makers” are the people who

…look at things a little differently and who just might spark the next generation of scientists, engineers, and makers.

Makers delight in tinkering, hacking, creating and re-using materials and technology.  They have organized themselves into thriving communities, we read, in which they create objects that they are passionate about.

Springing up in cities and communities across the country, Maker-spaces invite people in to learn from friends, mentors and peers.  They learn about 21st-century tools; they learn to use computer-controlled table-saws, laser cutters, and 3-D printers to create prototypes and fabricate physical objects.

The Obama administration has spotlighted innovation, particularly in the STEM fields. 

In his April 2009 address to the National Academy of Sciences, the President urged us to

…think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things and not just consumers of things.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST, recently released a report “Designing a Digital Future: Federally Funded Research and Development Networking and Information Technology.”

The reports states that the problem is not just students’ lack of proficiency, that there is also a lack of interest in STEM fields among them.

PCAST acknowledges that when students and teachers develop personal connections with the ideas and excitement of STEM field, education is most successful.

The maker movement, they feel, might be able to stir the right kind of passion missing from traditional education.

Last Fall, the World Maker Faire joined with the National Science Foundation to fund a workshop that would consider how the maker movement might inform and improve STEM education.  

Leaders gathered from foundations and federal agencies; there were educators; innovators from schools of engineering, architecture, computer science, and multimedia design.  They were joined by entrepreneurs, research scientists and directors of leading science centers, museums and arts institutions.

Their conclusion: the maker movement is not just a shiny new toy to be appropriated by reformers as the next disruptive new wave.

Rather, they agreed, it is the maker sensibility that defines its possibilities: a deep engagement with content, experimentation, exploration, problem-solving, collaboration, and learning to learn.  These are the ingredients of effective learning communities.

As Honey and Siegel write:

From John Dewey to Theodore Sizer, progressive educators have championed these very conditions, urging schools to value depth over breadth, exploration over efficiency, and patience and persistence over acceleration.

By creating spaces where individuals can dig deeply into their passions and take time to explore, tinker, and invent with like-minded others, the maker movement affirms the kind of deep learning that matters.

Big Picture Learning, based in Providence RI, supports a network of 140 schools that focus on students who have been alienated by traditional schooling.  It uses a methodology known as POPS — people, objects, places, and situations — to engage their interests in a process of “thinkering.”  They reduced drop-out rates as they prepared students for 21st-century careers.

RAFT, Resource Area for Teaching, is a thriving nonprofit organization founded in California in 1994.  RAFT’s mission is to help educators transform the learning experience through hands-on education, collaborative activities and an emphasis on 21st-century learning skills.  They are currently working with more than 10,000 teachers in classrooms, home-school environments and after-school or community-based programs.

The 2010 World Maker Faire staged a series of Maker Days in the months leading up to the event.  These were weekend family programs.  They guided visitors in open-ended table-top challenges, such as building robotic vehicles, designing buildings, and creating miniature boats.  In these sessions, makers inspired visitors of all ages to innovate, create and solve problems together. 

Organizers watched intergenerational play and family collaboration.  They were greatly encouraged by the amount positive feedback from visitors.

It is our natural inclination to create as we learn and to learn as we create that is at heart of this movement.

Sole source: article in the February 2, 2011 issue of  Education Week, a weekly publication.  Visit http://www.edweek.org.  A subscription will allow you access to premium online content and nearly 30 years of Education Week archives. 

Margaret Honey is the president and chief executive officer of the New York Hall of Science.  Eric Siegel is NYSCI’s director and chief content officer. 

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ NY School District Offers All-Girls Tech Program

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The Fairport Central School District in upstate New York has approved an aggressive approach to counteract the gender gap in technology education, according to Ernst Lamothe, Jr in the Democrat Chronicle.

The district is set to begin a two-year pilot program starting next fall, to create four all-girl technology courses (two in ninth grade and two in middle school).  Enrollment will be voluntary, in compliance with Title IX.

Dave Allyn, a special assignment administrator for the district says, “Girls sometimes won’t take technology classes because they don’t want to be the only girl in a class or in a technology club.  Job growth is happening again in engineering and some of the sciences where old stereotypes persist about those male-dominated fields, and we need to make our young women aware that there is an opportunity for them.” 

Although women make up more than half of the work force, they hold only 28 percent of technology positions (US Bureau of labor Statistics).  The number of young women studying computer science has fallen by more than 40 percent in the past two decades.

With computer support specialist, systems administrator and engineering positions expected to grow significantly by 2016, educators and employers worry that young women are failing to gain the necessary skills for those jobs.

Both the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology have less than 30 percent female enrollment in their undergraduate engineering programs.

More than 450 public schools nationwide offer single-sex academic classes, says the US Department of Education.  Research finds that female students learn differently, including preferring collaborative learning and quieter environments.

They are more concerned with complete understanding, doing quality work and helping others.  Male students tend to want to complete tasks as quickly as possible and move on.

Instead of trying to make girls fit into the existing system, school districts nationwide are changing to become more inviting for girls.  The solutions include instituting after-school technology clubs targeting young women as well as offering single-gender technology classes.

Universities also continue to push hard to attract more female engineers, since women make up less than 18 percent of six engineering fields, including single-digit percentages in civil and mechanical engineering.

Colleges and universities have started national programs such as “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” which is part of February’s Engineering Week.  The push continues in March, during Women’s History Month, when elementary and secondary schools can participate in live Web chats and teleconferences that encourage girls to consider engineering as a major.

The Rochester Institue of Technology began several initiatives six years ago.  They offer a middle school girls’ robotics program every winter, as well as an elementary design program camp.

At the Fairport schools, boys made up 90.3 percent of the enrollment in technology classes last year; this year, the proportion rose to 91.7 percent.   When the high school added a computer game design course to teach students programming skills, only three of the 115 enrollees were girls.

These single-gender classes will have the same curriculum and exams as their mixed-gender counterparts.  There will be two eighth-grade Technology for Girls classes that will last one quarter at two of the schools and a semester- or year-long course at the other two.

Fairport Middle School teachers purchased computer programming, designed by a Carnegie Mellon University professor, intended to appeal to girls.

According to Allyn, “Usually computer games are all about car crashes, armies, gunfights and sports, which boys tend to like, but not always young girls.” 

But this new system encourages people to write stories and put them into animation, which taps into the creativity and technology aspects for the female students.

The district has also added hand-drafting units for graphic arts and two environmental-related units, because women make up almost 50 percent of people in the field of environmental engineering.

Elizabeth Brown, a technology teacher at one of the schools, says schools need to follow that up by offering young girls more classes focused on green and alternative energy issues.  She has her class building solar-powered cars this year.

“If we are serious about this issue,” says Brown, “you have to make inroads with our young women now, and it must start as early as middle school.”

The school district also started a new middle school club called Cyberettes, connecting them with female computer students enrolled at RIT.  They work together on projects such as Web design, encryption, programming and video editing, giving young girls an introduction to technology careers and advice from women talking about their experience in a male-dominated culture.

Margaret Bailey, mechanical engineer professor at RIT and executive director of its Women in Engineering program, says

There are some girls who are going to do well regardless of putting them in single-gender class or not.  But for those who might not, what Fairport is doing makes sense, expecially at a young age, when you see girls losing interest in math and sciences because they are not getting much encouragement about pursuing careers in those areas.

Additional Facts:

According to the US Census Bureau, women make up a small proportion of professionals in key technology fields:

  • Physics: 21 percent
  • Computer science: 18.6 percent
  • Aerospace engineering: 11.5 percent
  • Civil Engineering: 9.5 percent
  • Mechanical engineering: 7.1 percent

sole source: article by Ernst Lamothe Jr at www.democratandchronicle.com on 11/16/09.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com