Almost four years ago, I attended my first NSTA conference in San Antonio, Texas, as a NSTA-DOW Teacher Fellow. One of the last workshops I took was presented by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). Their mission was to connect educators with organizations around the nation to help inform and encourage young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). As a science teacher at an all-girls middle school, I of course jumped at the opportunity to sit in at this workshop and network with its project leaders. I asked if they had a chapter or database in New York State, and was disappointed to learn that they did not.
Yesterday, NGCP finally arrived in New York State! They held their first NGCP Steam Kickoff Conference at the Hudson Valley Community College TEC-SMART facility in Malta, New York. It was a beautiful autumn day; the colorful foliage and stark-white birches were a sight to behold through the tall glass windows of the LEED-certified building. However, what I enjoyed the most was the sight of many people–educators and CEOS of local business organizations– talking and collaborating about ways to create more STEAM programs in our schools. The highlights were the panels of local high school and college female students talking about their experiences with STEAM and their advice for adults and other young girls; and of local presidents, CEOS, and business representatives sharing their advice on how to get in contact with their organizations for funding, mentorship, and collaborative programs.
As I listened in on the discussions and conversations, there were several strands that stood out to me. Below I list some of the lessons I learned as a science teacher from each panel, along with some great STEAM resources.
What I learned as a teacher from the panel of young independent females in STEM fields
1. Most of the young females did not like math and science during their formative elementary and middle-school years. It was not until their transition from middle school to high school that an adult turned them on to these subjects through challenging and hands-on creative work. These adults encouraged them to ask questions, taught them not how to ask for answers but how to figure things out on their own, and pushed them to keep trying when they failed.
2. When asked how educators can better encourage more young female students to go for STEM careers, the panelists emphasized the importance of student-driven inquiry. “Let them make something. Ask them what they want to do. Let them come up with the materials and project deadlines.” Students are more likely to be engaged and motivated throughout if they are working on something that is meaningful to them.
3. Despite research on differences between genders, the panelists also stressed that educators should not single out young female students in the classroom. “We are people. Yes, we love math and science and we may be very good at them, but we also love to act, sing, dance, and play sports.” Help your students break down gender stereotypes by setting up mixed collaborative groups, occasional girls vs. boys competitions (to show boys that when the girls win they too are smart and have many strengths), and frequent team-building activities in the classroom.
4. Many of the panelists admitted that they struggled in school. Some talked about adults who stayed long hours after school to tutor them. Another panelist strongly urged educators not to give up on their struggling students. “Don’t underestimate the power of one conversation. In sixth grade, I almost gave up on science until my teacher pulled me aside and told me I could do it. I ended up in honors science.” Nowadays with the stressors of Common Core and standardized testing, I often forget why I went into teaching. This particular moment was a loud wake up call for me. Teaching is not about getting my lesson plans in on time. Teaching is not about the test scores in my grade book. Teaching is about listening to the students, especially the struggling ones.
What I learned as a teacher from the panel of local businesses and organization representatives
1. Ask, ask, and ask. Often times, there is funding and resources available if you just ask for it. Many educators may be discouraged by politics and communication barriers with big companies, but there are others out there who are looking for educators and young audiences for their resources. Keep looking, and keep asking.
2. Look through the NGCP Program Directory, or contact your local chamber of commerce and other established non-profit organizations to find mentors and resources for your classroom.
3. Don’t forget the “A” in STEAM! While students need to know how to quantitatively measure and figure out problems, they also need to know how to read and write. They also need to know how to present themselves as well-rounded professionals. Science, math, and engineering are all creative processes and so educators should also encourage more creativity in their students.
Helpful STEAM and collaborative-project resources I picked up from the #NYSTEAMKickoff
Cornell Cooperative Extension puts knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. We bring local experience and research based solutions together, helping New York State families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world.
We’re young women with the power to make a difference. We believe in the potential of computing to build a better world.
FabFems are women from a broad range of professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). They are passionate, collaborative, and work to make the world a better place. Many girls have similar interests but aren’t connected to adults who exemplify the STEM career pathway.
Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, providing more than 138,000 girls across the U.S. and Canada with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face. Girls Inc. gives girls the right tools and support to succeed, including trained professionals who mentor and guide them in a safe, girls-only environment, peers who share their drive and aspirations, and research-based programming. At Girls Inc., girls learn to set and achieve goals, boldly confront challenges, resist peer pressure, see college as attainable, and explore nontraditional fields such as STEM.
Maker Faire and Make: Magazine have inspired makers for almost 10 years with the greatest show and tell on earth and quality editorial coverage. MakerSpace.com is our new online community that helps connect makers with each other, and give everyone simple new tools to organize and share projects, as well as find other interesting makers and projects to follow and collaborate with.
Million Women Mentors is an engagement campaign and national call to action that mobilizes corporations, government entities, non-profit and higher education groups, around the imperative of mentoring girls and young women in STEM fields.
NGCP offers many resources to strengthen Collaborative networks and advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for girls.
Pathways to Science is a project of the Institute for Broadening Participation (IBP). Pathways to Science supports pathways to the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We place particular emphasis on connecting underrepresented groups with STEM programs, funding, mentoring and resources.
The RPI Engineering Ambassadors are a group of RPI engineers devoted to inspiring younger students with what they are doing in their chosen major, the newest technological breakthroughs in their field, and the obstacles yet to be overcome. We do this by visiting middle schools and high schools and giving presentations to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related classes.
SciGirls is a PBS Kids show, website and outreach program with a bold goal to change how millions of girls think about STEM. The SciGirls Connect is a resource website for teachers. Don’t forget to take a look at their book, “SciGirls Seven: How To Engage Girls in STEM”, which is also offered as a free download.