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 Fewer than 20% had heard about the impact of outdated stereotypes on test scores and in girls self-assessments, implicit biases, or on the need to develop spatial visualization skills.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.
Update Nov 8th — The San Diego Computer-Using Educators (SDCUE) conference consisted of four rooms of vendor displays, six 45 minute presentation tracks of 19 presentations/track. I had heard there were 90 educators in attendance – but I want to say there were more. The vendors were selling their wares from a 75 zoom projector microscope attracting educators to their display of the resting non-descript bugs sitting on a twig in a white paper coffee cup, plenty of software packages, and even the Science Fair folks and a team from the Ruben H Fleet Science Center advertising their afterschool events. Nothing else engineering related that I could see.
My presentation was in a computer lab, with a computer and monitor on every desktop. With the short ceiling and free-standing projector screen squeezed in between the first row of desks and the chalk board, it was a little tough for the audience to look over their monitors to see the full screen. The ten minutes between classes, was just enough time to hook up my laptop for the presentation. I followed a man speaking on emoting software.
The class consisted of 20 people, mostly educators, 1 parent, 2 STEM education majors. One educator was an engineer turned educator :>. One was from the Ruben H Fleet Science Center who wanted to see what the Why So Few? presentation might have to offer. Only one person in the audience had heard of/read the AAUW Report (hats off to the Ruben H Fleet education specialist). For the remainder of the class, 90% of the material was new.
From the parents program feedback, and the handful of educators I had met in them, I had come to the general impression that educators were aware of some of the older pieces of research – like the stereotype threat that is at least 15 years old. But after this event, I have to recalibrate as I explained in much fuller detail the background the reasoning behind the research than planned.
Lessons learned: the AAUW research material is still fresh, educators are eager to connect up with engineers who might want to visit and present to their class (great tie in for the SWE-SD Speakers Bureau), and the WGBH materials need help in getting the word out about their opportunities.
— Nov 4th — Giving my first presentation to an educators conference – San Diego Computer-Using Educators – at Cal State San Marcos this Saturday Nov 5th, 2001. The title is “Why So Few Girls in Engineering? Change the Stories!”.