Girls Can Do Math

There’s a scene in the film Hidden Figures, in which NASA engineer Paul Stafford refuses the request of Katherine Johnson, a physicist and mathematician working on an upcoming space mission, to attend an editorial meeting. Stafford’s response is dismissive: “There’s no protocol for women attending.” To which Johnson replies by saying “There’s no protocol for a man circling Earth either, sir.”

 

Hidden Figures is based on the real-life experiences of three African-American female mathematicians: Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan. Along with a team of other African-American women, they were employed by NASA to work as human computers, carrying out math computations by hand.

 

So why are we talking about this on the Twig blog?

 

Because most of the struggles faced by Katherine Johnson and others, as women in STEM, in the 1960’s are still prevalent today, research continues to point at the gender disparity in STEM fields.

 

Research continues to highlight the gender disparity in the STEM workforce. Reports from the
National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) show that the rate at which women/girls select science courses shifts at the undergraduate level and gender disparities begin to emerge, especially for minority groups.

 

Statistics also point to a mixed picture within the Core STEM workforce in 2016. Although a positive increase of 13,000 more women working in Core STEM occupations was seen, the proportion of the workforce made up by women decreased from 22% to 21% since 2015. Overall, women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce.

 

Statistics also show that in the US, race and ethnicity are salient factors in rates of participation in the science and engineering workforce.

 

Worrying, isn’t it?

 

Excuses about STEM inequality range from theories of pipeline issues to female scientists forgoing careers in favour of a better work-life balance. We cannot, however, ignore the elephant in the STEM room: bias. A study conducted by Dr Joan C. Williams and the Center for WorkLife Law states that women typically face five biases at work and each plays out differently depending on the woman’s ethnicity or race.

 

This gender bias is present in the classroom too. How many times have we heard the phrases “Boys are better at science” or “Girls can’t do maths”? Whether we like to admit it or not, we can all be guilty of bias, including teachers. And what’s worse, most of us don’t even realise we are doing it. Think about it. We know boys tend to volunteer more in class and a teacher who calls on male students to participate might inadvertently discourage her female students without even realising it. Reports show that these miscues unintentional or not, can have long-lasting consequences and risk derailing girls’ success in STEM subjects, according to the National Education Association.

 

Every time a parent tells their daughter “Let your brother play with his train set, honey” we are sending out a wrong message. And these biases run deep.

 

In a study conducted at Yale University, science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student – who was randomly assigned either a male or female name – for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.

 

There is plenty of other evidence suggesting that old-fashioned, sexist and racial stereotypes are still alive and well. Numerous reports,articles and studies repeatedly point towards bias as the culprit for STEM disparity. Given the mounting evidence, it’s no wonder girls and women opt out of STEM.

 

So what can we do? We can start small. Support and encourage female students to participate in class and have their ideas heard, and stop looking at women (especially those working in STEM careers) through the prejudicial lens. Teachers play a big role here. The ISS-T and ICM-S surveys provide strong evidence that students’ decisions to study STEM subjects in college can be directly influenced by classroom instruction and teacher advising.

 

Incidentally, it was Katherine Johnson’s teacher who saw her extraordinary intelligence and convinced her parents to move her to a better school. And it was Katherine Johnson who was responsible for calculating the trajectory for the first US manned suborbital space flight on May 5, 1961.

 

So the next time you hear someone say “girls can’t do maths”, you might want to remind them of Katherine Johnson.

Twig World’s Reach Out Reporter nominated for a Learning on Screen Award 2017

Here’s something that’s made this week extra special: Twig World’s primary science news service, Reach Out Reporter, has been named a finalist for the Educational Multimedia Award (Non-Broadcast Delivery) by Learning on Screen!

 

As you may know, the Learning on Screen Awards are the UK’s only celebration of film and media production in education. The awards are designed to showcase innovative educational media content, as well as to recognise the talents of national broadcasters, arts institutions and higher education staff and students.

Every once in a while, we take the time to pause and review what we do and why we do it, and sometimes we allow ourselves a pat on the back for doing a good job. This nomination for a Learning on Screen Award serves as that pat on the back! Our work with Imperial College London and The Goldsmiths Company on the resource Reach Out Reporter launched just four months ago, and it is great to see it already going from strength to strength. We hope this raises its awareness as the go-to topical science resource.

We’d like to say thank you to all the teachers, parents, educators and students who have supported us and who continue to do so. We will be hoping for a win at the awards evening in April – in the meantime, keep those fingers crossed for us!

How STEM subjects help us develop the skills and thinking that make a better citizen

Teachers are a huge influence on a student’s choice of subject matter or their decision to pursue a STEM career. The evidence from the ICM-S survey suggests that students’ decisions to study STEM in college can be directly influenced by classroom instruction and teacher advising. However, student motivation can be a huge problem for even the best of teachers. But teachers also face a lot of challenges when it comes to STEM education.

 

Here are the top challenges that most teachers face and a few suggestions for how to tackle them.

 

Teach them Young:

Student boredom is a huge challenge faced by most teachers. Research suggests that most students lose interest in Science between 12–13 years of age.

A good way to counteract this challenge is to inculcate a love for science early on in the student’s life. Early educators can integrate STEM lessons into a daily curriculum so children will develop a stronger understanding of these skills early on.

Most young children already engage with science without understanding. For example, when children stack playing blocks together, they are essentially learning laws of physics. Similarly, when they run off on nature walks to explore a fallen nest or flower, they are observing the biological world. Teachers can use this curiosity to direct the students in a more focused manner.

 

Innovative Teaching:

Science learning can be boring if it does not exemplify the effects of classroom theory in the real world. According to a study undertaken by the Institute of Engineering and Technology: “Most students see the curriculum as boring and irrelevant to life outside of school.” Studies show that “practical activities enable students to build a bridge between what they can see and handle and scientific ideas that account for their observations”. Making these connections is challenging, so practical activities that make these links explicit are more likely to be successful. Practical project work also enables group discussions, teamwork, communication and peer-to-peer interaction, all of which are considered important 21st-century skills.

 

Topical Science:

Most children struggle to understand the importance of science because they cannot see the connection between what they learn in the classroom and the happenings of the real world. Students also have a perception of science subjects being either too difficult or too boring. Introducing topical science in class can help students understand the relevance of science in everyday life. A typical STEM lesson usually involves four basic steps:

  • Identify a real-world problem.
  • Ask questions to explore the problem (and potentially solve the problem).
  • Develop solutions.
  • Explore a hands-on activity.

 

Going Digital:

Most teachers struggle with a huge workload, which does not give them much time or energy to plan intricate STEM lessons. Technology can help here. The EPI found that teachers who make their pupils use technology for class projects in all or most lessons work 4.6 hours fewer per week than those who only occasionally use educational films and educational quizzes.

Educational films are a quick and fun way to capture students’ attention and can often be used to initiate teaching techniques like Flipping the Classroom.

 

Razing the Gender Divide:

The ratio of men to women in STEM fields is vastly disproportionate, with men outnumbering women. Efforts are now underway to include more girls in STEM. This is a challenging task, as most girls, unfortunately, grow up with a lot of prejudice, even if it is unintentional. Teachers can do lots of things to help their female students overcome these biases and nurture their STEM dreams: encourage female students to participate more, introduce them to more female role models or be a role model yourself. Most students look up to their teachers, so sharing your own experiences as a science teacher can be incredibly encouraging to your female students. Teachers can also introduce their female students to the various initiatives that advocate women’s role in STEM fields. Examples include Girls who code, black girls code and the NationalGirls Collaborative Project, amongst many others.

According to a National Science Report, “The gap in educational attainment separating underrepresented minorities from whites and Asians remains wide.” In the case of most minorities, this gap exists due to a lack of access to good education and resources.

 

So what can educators do to help?

Active Learning: Research shows that traditional teaching can often undermine students, particularly those from ethnic backgrounds. Active learning, on the other hand, is proven to be effective in learning STEM.

Encouragement and Support: Educators might not be able to erase cultural bias but they can help students overcome it through encouragement and attention, and by informing minority students of the various STEM opportunities that are available to them. For example NACMEAPS and many others.

Educators play a vital role in shaping future generations and can have far reaching effects on a student’s life. Often it can be the difference between extinguishing a child’s dream of becoming a leading scientist, or nurturing it.

Challenges in STEM education and how teachers can overcome them

Teachers are a huge influence on a student’s choice of subject matter or their decision to pursue a STEM career. The evidence from the ICM-S survey suggests that students’ decisions to study STEM in college can be directly influenced by classroom instruction and teacher advising. However, student motivation can be a huge problem for even the best of teachers. But teachers also face a lot of challenges when it comes to STEM education.

Here are the top challenges that most teachers face and a few suggestions for how to tackle them.

Teach them Young:

Student boredom is a huge challenge faced by most teachers. Research suggests that most students lose interest in Science between 12–13 years of age.

A good way to counteract this challenge is to inculcate a love for science early on in the student’s life. Early educators can integrate STEM lessons into a daily curriculum so children will develop a stronger understanding of these skills early on.

Most young children already engage with science without understanding. For example, when children stack playing blocks together, they are essentially learning laws of physics. Similarly, when they run off on nature walks to explore a fallen nest or flower, they are observing the biological world. Teachers can use this curiosity to direct the students in a more focused manner.

Innovative Teaching:

Science learning can be boring if it does not exemplify the effects of classroom theory in the real world. According to a study undertaken by the Institute of Engineering and Technology: “Most students see the curriculum as boring and irrelevant to life outside school.” Studies show that “practical activities enable students to build a bridge between what they can see and handle and scientific ideas that account for their observations”. Making these connections is challenging, so practical activities that make these links explicit are more likely to be successful. Practical project work also enables group discussions, teamwork, communication and peer-to-peer interaction, all of which are considered important 21st-century skills .

Topical Science:

Most children struggle to understand the importance of science because they cannot see the connection between what they learn in the classroom and the happenings of the real world. Students also have a perception of science subjects being either too difficult or too boring. Introducing topical science in class can help students understand the relevance of science in everyday life. A typical STEM lessons usually involves four basic steps:

  • Identify a real-world problem.
  • Ask questions to explore the problem (and potentially solve the problem).
  • Develop solutions.
  • Explore a hands-on activity.

Going Digital:

Most teachers struggle with a huge workload, which does not give them much time or energy to plan intricate STEM lessons. Technology can help here. The EPI found that teachers who make their pupils use technology for class projects in all or most lessons work 4.6 hours fewer per week than those who only occasionally use educational films and educational quizzes.

Educational films are a quick and fun way to capture students’ attention and can often be used to initiate teaching techniques like flipping the classroom.

Erazing the Gender Divide:

The ratio of men to women in STEM fields is vastly disproportionate, with men outnumbering women. Efforts are now underway to include more girls in STEM. This is a challenging task, as most girls unfortunately grow up with a lot of prejudice, even if it is unintentional. Teachers can do lots of things to help their female students overcome these biases and nurture their STEM dreams: encourage female students to participate more, introduce them to more female role models or be a role model yourself. Most students look up to their teachers, so sharing your own experiences as a science teacher can be incredibly encouraging to your female students. Teachers can also introduce their female students to the various initiatives that advocate women’s role in STEM fields. Examples include: Girlswhocode, blackgirlscode and the National Girls Collaborative Project, amongst many others.

According to a National Science Report, “The gap in educational attainment separating underrepresented minorities from whites and Asians remains wide.” In the case of most minorities, this gap exists due to a lack of access to good education and resources.

So what can educators do to help?

Active Learning: Research shows that traditional teaching can often undermine students, particularly those from ethnic backgrounds. Active learning, on the other hand, is proven to be effective in learning STEM.

Encouragement and Support: Educators might not be able to erase cultural bias but they can help students overcome it through encouragement and attention, and by informing minority students of the various STEM opportunities and scholarships that are available to them. For example, opportunities include NACMEAPS, and many others. The Premier Nursing Academy has also collated a list of over 50 active scholarships for historically underrepresented groups.

Educators play a vital role in shaping future generations and can have far reaching effects on a student’s life. Often it can be the difference between extinguishing a child’s dream of becoming a leading scientist, or nurturing it.