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Bringing girls to STEM

When high school students are asked about their interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, about a third of the boys say they are very interested. Only one in five of the girls say the same thing.

This data has not changed since 2003, said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. Her group has been polling and collecting data on students and technology for decades.

The dilemma of how to bring more women into STEM professions was the topic of Council of Urban Boards of Education’s (CUBE) General Session on Sunday at NSBA’s annual conference in Nashville.

In the U.S., women hold 24 percent of STEM jobs, said Evans. In school districts, technology leadership positions are three times more likely to be held by men than by women. “We are sending out unintended signals about these positions to women,” she said. “We have a pipeline problem.”

Girls and boys start out being equally interested in science and technology, but that interest wanes as girls get older.  Project Tomorrow collected new data, asking students about their interest in taking an after-school class in coding. In the upper elementary grades, 64 percent of girls are very interested. In middle school, it drops to 50 percent, and in high school, only 37 percent of girls are very interested.

This drop in interest among girls as they get older follows other STEM education trends, said Evans. Girls’ interest in science drops off in the third grade. “That’s when our elementary school teachers start to feel the curriculum is a little too difficult for them. They walk away from the hands-on activities and rely more on textbooks for instruction,” said Evans.

Evans also mentioned that there’s a relationship between girls having access to mobile devices and their interest in learning about coding. Those girls also are more likely to play digital learning games. This opens up the door to school using mobile devices and game-based technology to attract girls to STEM.

Also at the session were Nashville Metro School Board President Sharon Dixon Gentry and Kecia Ray, executive director of learning technologies and library services. They discussed Nashville’s efforts to promote STEM to girls, including their STEM academy program. 

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