Girls and STEM

On Saturday I dragged Louise Ankers (Physics teacher from Pascoe Vale Girls College) to the last Teach Meet Melbourne for the year, this time at Scienceworks. We were treated to a run-down of the Lightning Room by Michael De Silva – always very cool, especially the Tesla coil!

Lightning Room at Scienceworks

Lightning Room at Scienceworks

I dragged Louise along because I was talking about Girls and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and I wanted to highlight the work Louise and her team have done with the students at Pascoe Vale Girls College. I have also been doing some research into the numbers of undergraduate male:female ratios and speaking to students about their experiences.

My presentation can be accessed here and I have included notes and a list of excellent resources.

TeachMeet 29th Nov2014

But my main points were as follows;

  1. We need to encourage girls to take Math and Physics, not protect them from something that is ‘too hard’
  2. We need to mentor the girls and give them role models they can relate to and respect – You can’t be what you can’t see.
  3. We need to watch our own unconscious gender bias as it is a rare person (male AND female) that doesn’t have some about of unconscious bias
  4. We need to stop sending the messages that girls can’t do math and science – whether explicitly or through our bias
  5. We need to start early – around the age of 8 is when the stereotypical white elderly male with the crazy hair becomes the image of a typical scientist
  6. We need to work on this all through school and continue into the workplace as academia and industry have their own issues

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this study (other than the declining numbers) is how quickly and early girls truly believe that they aren’t as good at math and science as boys, that science is a boy thing. As I talk to the students who plan to continue and the women who have an established career, many often site the reason they stuck with physics is because they want to prove those naysayers wrong. The decision to study and work in science shouldn’t be a test of strength or a war of wills, it should be about following your passion and curiosity about the world around us.

When I finished up my talk, I also threw out a couple of thoughts which were both met with great enthusiasm. So some food for thought;

  • Let’s talk about STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS and Maths (watch out for my next post…)
  • What about the other end of the scale? Boys doing history, design, hairdressing and as the next speaker @charte (who spoke about Emerging Science Victoria among other things) asked ‘What about 17th century French History??’

I have also been talking with @thirddegreeblog about the study and an article appeared in The Age on the same weekend! We hope to bring you more information as the study unfolds and as more data and stories come to light.

If you haven’t been to a Teach Meet, head along next year – they are popping up all over the world. They are full of amazing ideas for broadening the classroom experience. We were introduced to Think Ahead exhibit at Scienceworks by @ictedservices, a Twitter Tour by @ccoffa, an online school program, Our Common Future, from @Sahra_Josephine, a mentoring program for developers and educators called Code the Future by @BecSpink and the very cool Sphero that went straight on to everyone’s Christmas list thanks to @mrpbps. There heaps of other talks so definitely have a look at #tmmelb for the links, presentations, etc and there was rumour of a Storify too. Thanks to @ccoffa, here is the Storify.