February 11th marks the third annual International Women and Girls in Science Day, created to recognize the important role women and girls play in science and technology. As we celebrate women in STEM, it is also important to recognize that women only make up 30% of science and engineering jobs. To change this inequity, it is critical to inspire girls to be bold STEM leaders and to address the gender barriers that still exist.
Breaking down STEM barriers starts in the classroom, providing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning in an inclusive digital environment. And this education shouldn’t be limited to high school students. Igniting STEM interest in middle school increases girls’ STEM interest later in their education.
Below are four pillars of an effective digital STEM education for middle school-age students.
1. Connect in the Classroom:Research shows that girls and boys do not differ significantly in their abilities in mathematics and science, but differ in their interest and confidence in STEM subjects. Boys are more likely to show self-directed interest in STEM while girls more likely to have school-based motivations in STEM.
2. Gender-Neutral Design: Three times as many high school girls were interested in enrolling in a computer science class if the classroom was redesigned to be less “geeky”. Paying attention to the visual design of a teaching tool makes a difference. Photographs ground the content in a learners’ real-world STEM experiences while playful illustrations can appeal to the imaginative possibilities about the path that lies ahead. Considering design will appeal to all genders as well as to those learners who do not see themselves as the “STEM type”.
3. Inspire with Role Models: 60% of Americans say that a reason there are not more women in STEM jobs is due to the lack of strong female role models in STEM. Research shows that strong role models counter girls’ misconceptions and expose them to a wide range of career possibilities. It is important to introduce girls to a diversity of STEM professionals.
4. Spark Early Interest: One key indicator determining high school graduates’ interest in STEM is learner interest entering high school. By high school, gender and racial gaps in STEM interest and exam scores are pronounced with many girls no longer considering STEM careers. By designing a program for middle school students, girls are introduced to a positive STEM environment during their formative years, inspiring them to be bold and confident future leaders in STEM.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation partners with EverFi, an education technology company, to bring critical skills to students across the United States and Canada through the STEM Scholars program.