Advancing the Image of Engineering One Audience at a Time

This weekend, over 400 teachers – from primary grades to high school – attended the 34th Annual Conference of the Greater San Diego Mathematics Council (GSDMC). I had the opportunity to connect with 30 teachers who stepped in to listen to my session: “Learn How to Promote STEM to Girls”.

Math teachers have always inspired me.  They are a key pathway to many girls for introducing them to Engineering. This was my opportunity to assess just how much of the research the teachers knew on the factors that influence whether a girl enters STEM or not and to get their feedback.

The STEM research on women was new to a majority of the teachers. Fewer than 20% had heard about the impact of outdated stereotypes on test scores and in girls self-assessments, implicit biases, or on the need to develop spatial visualization skills. The best known research was on Growth Mindset – related to how we give praise – with 30% of the teachers having heard it before. The updated engineering messaging was new to virtually everyone.

The teachers were aware at just how well high school girl have been doing – girls have been out performing boys in overall math and science GPA and credit hours for over twenty years. But they were definitely surprised to hear that fewer than 5% of the over 1,000 parents I have presented the research to knew this fact. In the end, they appreciated the need to send the message that “both boys and girls are performing equally well in math and science” to both their students AND to the parents.     

Recommendations from the educators:

  • “Have film producers generate a movie or TV show of brilliant women engineers unravelling design failures.” 
  • Expand the session next year into a whole strand: provide the research and then integrate it with teachers providing concrete class room examples.
  • More people need to hear the research: present it to more educators, school administrations, my entire department, high school students, college students, struggling students, girl scout troop leaders.

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