Students are often unaware of biases that operate in society and the ways in which these biases can limit the contributions of diverse Australians. In this lesson they have an opportunity to explore the ways women have been written out of science history, and to take action to highlight the importance of diversity in STEM.
Years 7 and 8
Some students may feel they have ‘underperformed’ if they are unable to identify scientists from a variety of gender or cultural backgrounds. It’s a good idea for students to work in pairs for this activity, and very important to ensure students appreciate that their perceptions are often the result of broader social forces.
Explain to students that cultural perspectives and worldviews which preference particular genders or over others impact the way scientific knowledge is developed, as they can privilege the contributions of some scientists over others.
As a class, watch this Ted Talk by Kylie Walker to learn more about the visibility of women scientists and hear about the Superstars of STEM program.
Explain that an extreme example of bias against women in science is ‘the Matilda Effect’, where the bias against acknowledging achievements of women scientists means their work is attributed to their male colleagues. The phrase was coined in 1993 by Margaret Rossiter, an academic historian, and named after the women’s rights advocate Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Learn more about Margaret Rossiter’s work and the forgotten women of science by accessing the articles linked in the resources section.
Many girls have experienced gender bias in their experiences of school STEM. Consider the resources they’ve been experiencing at school and how many of them portray women as active leaders in STEM fields. Acknowledging the explicit and implicit bias against women in STEM in many girls’ environments is a great way to start a conversation about actively challenging stereotypes.
One way to continue to improve equity in STEM fields is to celebrate and share diverse STEM practitioners.
Ask students to create a poster that celebrates the contributions of a little-known scientist. It could be someone the students know personally, someone who has inspired them or someone who is of a gender, cultural, racial or social background of the student’s choice.
Their poster should include the scientist’s name, area of focus and explain their contributions to STEM. It should engage high school students and encourage them to learn more about diverse practitioners.
For inspiration, students can explore the following poster resources:
In addition to the poster, students should explain why they chose this STEM practitioner and what they believe are some of the challenges this person may have faced in their career.
Research has shown that projects which involve researching and presenting historic and contemporary women in STEM can be intrinsically motivating and informative. Engaging in personally meaningful projects supports students’ engagement with STEM.