SciGirls Strategies Using Gender-Equitable Teaching Strategies and STEM Video Narratives to Engage Girls in Nontraditional STEM Fields
SciGirls Strategies is a National Science Foundation–funded project led by Twin Cities PBS (TPT) in partnership with St. Catherine University, the National Girls Collaborative, and XSci (The Experiential Science Education Research Collaborative) at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for STEM Learning. This three-year initiative aims to increase the number of high school girls recruited to and retained in fields where females are traditionally underrepresented: technical science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) pathways. We seek to accomplish this goal by providing career and technical education (CTE) teachers with professional development focused on gender-equitable teaching strategies and role modeling.
In the United States, women remain significantly underrepresented in the STEM workforce, particularly in CTE fields such as engineering, manufacturing, and computer science. In 2012, in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metropolitan region, only 1.1% of postsecondary degrees were awarded to women in technology and engineering fields, and none in manufacturing and trade. Although CTE is widely available across Minnesota (in middle and high schools, career centers, community and technical colleges, and other postsecondary institutions), young women make up fewer than one in four students in CTE programs, fewer than one in six students in manufacturing and construction-related CTE programs, and fewer than one in 10 students in transportation and logistics CTE programs (Mueller 2014). CTE can give women the knowledge and skills required to enter higher-paying “nontraditional” occupations for women, which are legally defined as those in which less than 25% of the workforce are women (DOL 2008). These include occupations such as computer science; mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering; automotive repair; architecture; construction; manufacturing; aviation; and firefighting, among others. To encourage more girls and minorities to pursue STEM careers, the Minnesota Department of Education recommends connecting course work to students’ lives, improving teaching through professional development, and providing students with internships, mentoring, and hands-on training in CTE-related STEM jobs. This echoes the Perkins Act, which aims to increase the quality of technical education and recommends that states collaborate with industry to enable CTE faculty to consistently refresh their industry knowledge and instructional practices, including gender equity.
SciGirls Strategies’ activities include:
- developing and delivering a professional development short course for CTE educators on gender equitable strategies,
delivering and evaluating role model training for female STEM professionals,
- creating and disseminating role model videos featuring diverse female STEM professionals, and
- completing a research study that investigates how using gender-equitable strategies and female role models impacts girls’ STEM identity.
SciGirls Strategies is based on SciGirls, a PBS media educational program anchored by two decades of research about what engages girls in STEM learning and careers. SciGirls’ gender-equitable strategies have encouraged girls’ authentic collaboration, self-reflection, and STEM participation, and they have been proven to increase girls’ interest in STEM and improve their attitudes toward these fields (Flagg 2012, 2016; Knight-Williams 2008, 2014). SciGirls Strategies is designed to address barriers that prevent many girls from fully participating in technical STEM career tracks. These barriers include limited exposure to female role models, stereotypes about girls’ lack of STEM ability and interest, commonly held misperceptions about STEM fields being “unfeminine”; low STEM self-esteem, and a lack of knowledge about or misunderstanding of STEM fields. Additionally, SciGirls Strategies uses digital narratives and media-making to help faculty explore and employ gender-equitable instructional strategies and help girls develop positive STEM identities.
With the overall goal of retaining more girls and women in nontraditional CTE-STEM pathways, our theory of action contends that if educators use more gender-equitable strategies and resources, more girls will be recruited and retained in technical STEM studies and careers. We are exploring the impact of providing students with a gender-equitable STEM classroom in three ways:
- preparing educators to employ gender-equitable teaching strategies;
- exposing girls to female STEM role models; and
- considering outcomes that reach beyond students’ scores and academic performance to include STEM-related attitudes, beliefs, personal relevance, meaning-making, and sense of self.
Behind this theory resides the question of whether this integrated approach can help girls generate more positive STEM-related identities, and ultimately pursue STEM studies and careers.
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