Creating a gender-inclusive teaching and learning environment in your classroom can inspire girls to engage more deeply with STEM, and to see themselves as successful STEM learners and potential STEM leaders.
A key idea through this section is looking at the ways in which our school environments influence girls’ self-concepts and stereotypical views of STEM subjects and careers. Girls typically want to perceive themselves in a certain way; for example, as collaborative, caring, creative, and socially and environmentally conscious. STEM and STEM role models on the other hand, are often portrayed as solitary, geeky, boring, abstract and theoretical – the opposite of the ways girls want to be perceived!
Teachers can employ gender-inclusive classroom strategies to challenge this perception of STEM. Creating an inclusive STEM classroom environment requires providing gender-neutral learning opportunities, challenging stereotypes, supporting girls’ self-concepts and encouraging a growth mindset. These strategies have been shown to support not just girls, but all students
There a range of tools teachers can use to remove gender bias from their own classrooms, teach students about gender bias, and influence whole school approaches to gender bias.
A gender-neutral learning environment is not necessarily one that is gender-free. Rather it is an environment in which teachers and learners avoid gender stereotyping and aim to ensure all learners are appreciated, respected and treated equally.
A good place to start is by creating gender-inclusive physical and virtual teaching spaces.
Even something as simple as classroom decor has been found to have an impact on girls’ decision to pursue STEM subjects (Master, Cheryan & Meltzoff, 2016).
Start by auditing your current spaces. What might the images, resources and set up of the space say to students about the way you perceive STEM and who is encouraged to engage with STEM in your classroom. Ask yourself:
It’s not just about ensuring equal representation - you can also actively challenge gender stereotypes about STEM through your selection of images, quotes and role models.
If you think you need to address gender balance in your classroom environment, check out the GiST poster series featuring Australian women in STEM, or these sites for free posters:
Next, look more closely at the resources you use in your classroom. Review the books, videos, websites, apps and role models you feature in your teaching. Ensure you are presenting students with a view that accurately represents a diversity of STEM professionals.
Girls do better on science tests when their textbooks include images of female scientists (Good, Woodzicka & Wingfield).
It is important to have gender-balanced resources that feature:
an equal number of girls and boys studying STEM subjects
an equal number of women and men in active or leadership roles
gender-neutral colours and design motifs.
Lastly, you can work with a colleague to use the Gender equity checklist to audit your classroom and teaching style for bias or stereotypes. It’s not just how our classrooms look, it’s also what happens within them. What we say, how we say it, who we call on to speak, and how we understand what students say all contribute to how we perpetuate or challenge gender stereotypes and unconscious bias.
While we can actively create inclusive classrooms, students also encounter bias and stereotypes outside of school. Teaching students to recognise bias and stereotypes can help combat implicit messages about diversity in STEM. You could try:
You could even consider engaging students in a review of your classroom and its resources. As a class you could discuss your findings and create an action plan to improve it.
How well is your school supporting girls to engage with STEM? A good way to approach this question is to start with the data. For each year level at your school, evaluate whether proportional numbers of girls are engaging with STEM activities or selecting STEM subjects. This data will also provide a good baseline to evaluate the success of changes in your school’s approach to gender equality.
Once you have some baseline data, look a little more deeply:
Showcasing inventions by women in their enrolment campaign enabled Singapore University of Technology and Design to increase its intake of women from 15 to 45 per cent. See the 2012 campaign here.