At our “Girl Powered” robotics event last month, I heard a girl say, “I don’t really like science at school. But I love it here!” As delighted as I was to hear this, it amplified what’s lacking in traditional education, and reinforced the need to rethink how we are teaching STEM to our girls.
It’s no secret that girls have long been discouraged from pursuing science, engineering, and math. In order to excel, girls and students of color must conform to a STEM culture that has traditionally excluded them. In her article titled “Against Algebra,” Temple Grandin puts it this way: “We are shunting students into a one-size-fits-all curriculum instead of nurturing the budding builders, engineers, and inventors that our country needs.” And it shows: women currently make up half the total college-educated workforce, but fill only 30 percent of STEM jobs. For Black and Latina women in STEM, that number reduces drastically, to only two percent. Imagine how many more girls might go into STEM fields if they felt as engaged and included as the girl at our robotics event.
Maker learning is a great entry point. Cori Lathan, technology entrepreneur and author of the recently released Inventing the Future: Stories from a Techno-Optimist, explains, “If we foster creativity in any form, then when students are presented with new problems, they will recognize it as a problem they can solve. They will have the “maker muscle.” With hands-on making, we can meet girls where their interests lie, and spark curiosity for STEM. And when girls tackle real-world issues, STEM becomes more meaningful. An Edutopia article on boosting girls’ engagement in STEM references a 2008 study from the National Academy of Engineering: when students were asked if they wanted to be engineers, “girls were twice as likely as boys to say no. But when asked if they would like to design a safe water system, save the rainforest, or use DNA to solve crimes, the girls answered yes.”
The skills girls (and boys) learn through hands-on, maker learning — creativity, perseverance, confidence, empathy — will propel them through any field they choose to pursue, STEM or otherwise. This is why I started KID Museum. Because innovative thinking and creative confidence are the domain of everyone, regardless of gender, race, or income level. As long as we provide the tools for success.
Fittingly, October was #GirlsLeadSTEM Month, part of a national campaign to close the gender gap in STEM. KID Museum will continue to push for equity in this field, maintaining strong relationships with schools to ensure that girls make up at least half of every cohort, with the majority of students from communities traditionally underrepresented in STEM. And we will continue to work with essential partners like Google and the REC Foundation to create exciting, hands-on opportunities like our Girl Powered robotics event, where girls can see themselves in STEM fields.
It’s time for our girls to experience what it means to be the capable and confident innovators we know they are.