Stereotypes and cultural norms dampen girls’ interest in STEM, but educators can counter the disparities with small changes to their practice.
Did you know that girls and boys perform equally well in math and science, and girls even outperform boys in Algebra I? Regardless of this fact, a gender gap still exists when it comes to pursuing STEM fields of study and careers. Could it be the way the instruction is framed or the images found in textbooks and elsewhere that ghosts them? Research suggests that it could be a little bit of both.
There are viable solutions to these issues on the horizon and teachers can do a lot to influence or dispel stereotypes in STEM education. Fostering a growth mindset in students by emphasizing the importance of practice rather than innate ability in improving performance is one way to help students learn that intelligence is not fixed but can be improved through training and that hard work can help them persist through challenges. That persistence, in math and science, is a trait that should be particularly advantageous for girls.
Another strategy is project based instruction. As an educator, I understand the value of this style of instruction and its ability to spark engagement and ownership of one’s own learning. A 2008 study from the National Academy of Engineering that asked boys and girls 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.