Inspiring and motivating girls
STEM subjects are not only useful pathways to traditional ‘STEM careers’ but are the skills learnt and taught by specialist teachers. These skills are important across all industries and roles. Much has been written about the crucial skills that people in the workplaces of the future will need. Critical thinking, problem-solving and analytic capabilities are listed alongside imagination and curiosity (PwC Australia 2015).
Dr Rebecca Cooper (who lectures in maths, science and technology within Monash University’s Faculty of Education) writes: ‘Research shows that negative stereotyping and unconscious bias has an impact on girls’ participation in … STEM at school’ (Cooper 2019).
As a STEM-specialist teacher, you can inspire, motivate, influence and encourage girls to see themselves involved in the STEM careers of the future.
A major study in 2017 by Microsoft, Why don’t European girls like science or technology?, has been widely referenced in STEM discussions all around the world. It has several suggestions for the education sector, some of which are reflected under the headings below.
Visible female role models
It is hard for girls to imagine themselves in professions when they can’t see role models they identify with, ones who reflect who they are. There are positive, talented women working in areas that interest your students. Share their stories to inspire the next generation.
Superstars of STEM is a great place to start when looking for female STEM role models.
Practical experience and hands-on exercises with real-life applications
Give students opportunities to participate in practical experiences, whether inside or outside the classroom. This has been shown to increase interest in STEM, as girls can see the connection to real-life problem-solving and the impact STEM can have in society. An example might be exploring how bubbles can be used to deliver drugs to cancerous tissue. Girls may become more interested in STEM if they can imagine how STEM subjects apply to real-life situations, and how relevant STEM is to their future.
Revealing and breaking down stereotypes
As Rebecca Cooper says, ‘promoting a growth mindset can challenge negative stereotypes about the ability of girls to succeed in STEM’ (Cooper 2019). Many pervasive and damaging myths about women in STEM remain, despite overwhelming evidence against them. Systemic biases limit the range of career options that many women aspire to. These biases come into effect early, impacting girls and women throughout their education before following them into the workplace. By learning what areas of STEM girls enjoy and are interested in, and encouraging them to pursue STEM, teachers see motivation, long-term engagement and hard work rise (Cooper 2019). Interest and students’ beliefs that girls can succeed and have a place in STEM are important aspects here.
Teachers as mentors
The 2017 Microsoft report points out, ‘When educators talk to girls about STEM subjects and actively encourage them, girls become more attracted to these disciplines’. As a teacher, you can have a powerful and positive influence on how students view themselves and their place in the world.
Building confidence in equality
‘Young women are more likely to pursue STEM careers if they are confident that men and women who work in these disciplines are treated equally’ (Microsoft 2017).
Conversations about equality and the modelling of what equality looks like are powerful for all students in classroom settings.
See below for resources about real-life applications, practical experience and information about female role models. These resources are linked to career development, and support specialist teachers like you to motivate and encourage girls into thinking about their futures in STEM and their place in the world.
Hundreds of maths careers profiles, videos and jobs you can draw on to encourage and increase Australia’s mathematically capable workforce.Field: Maths
Born to engineer
Classroom packs based on short and engaging videos that feature personal stories, many of them women’s.Field: Science, Engineering
Learning resources for the classroom relating specifically to botany.Field: Science
Careers with STEM
A list of job options relating to careers in science, some of which may surprise you and your students.Field: Science
Careers with STEM: The teachers' hub
This careers with STEM teachers’ hub offers an array of resources.Field: all STEM
Digital Technologies Hub – lesson plan
Students draw on maths, science and technology to design and build a sustainable house using Minecraft.Field: Technology
Fleer's conceptual playworld
A play-based imaginary scenario resource for young children that enables educators in an average classroom to deliver play-based programs for young children.Field: all STEM
Future Focused Learning
This collaborative forum can assist with workshop ideas and curriculum implementation.Field: all STEM
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A huge range of science, technology, engineering and maths activities and resources to excite or extend any student’s interest in space.Field: all STEM
Microsoft – Making a difference for girls in STEM
Resources and a downloadable action guide to help close the gender gap in STEM.Field: all STEM
Monash University – STEM talks
Videos of some leading scientists giving insights into the challenges and successes of cutting-edge STEM research.Field: all STEM
myfuture – teacher resources
STEM resources for years 7–10, designed to help subject teachers build their students’ career development awareness.Field: Science, Technology, Maths
Queensland STEM Education Network
Downloadable infographic posters for the classroom.Field: all STEM
Regional Development Australia Hunter ME Program
Content created to make the teaching environment more relevant and engaging for students in secondary schools.Field: all STEM
Science and Technology Australia
Profiles of the ‘2019 superstars of STEM’, containing many inspirational female STEM role models.Field; all STEM
Partners with educators and scientists to create free STEM activities, lessons, and resources for all learners based on real-life problems and questions.Field: all STEM
A STEM resource ready for immediate use and based on the Australian Curriculum.Field: all STEM
STELR – women in STEM
Video profiles of 19 female role models and entrepreneurs from STEM fields.Field: all STEM
STEM Club Toolkit
Create your own STEM Club!Field: all STEM
A STEM projects toolkit from the UK, with inquiry-based resources.Field: Science, Engineering
STEM Professionals in Schools
STEM Professionals in Schools is a national volunteer program that facilitates partnerships between schools and industry to bring real STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) into the classroom.Field: all STEM
The Engineering Link Group
A program that gives teachers of junior and senior science and maths the opportunity to work with engineers.Field: Science, Engineering, Maths
Victorian numeracy portal
A range of resources, activities and programs for children and students from early childhood to secondary school.Field: Maths
Women you should know
Profiles of impressive and inspirational women in STEM to aid discussions relating to pathways and the nature of work.Field: all STEM