We joined hundreds of organizations around the globe to celebrate the International #DayoftheGirlChild on October 10. This United Nations-led international day of observance supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide based upon their gender. This inequality includes areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, protection from discrimination, and more. Here at talkSTEM, we are committed to partnering with other organizations that provide resources to girls. In particular, we are working hard on our goal to develop future generations of female leaders by inspiring today’s youth to develop their STEM mindsets. One pathway to helping all children to develop their STEM mindsets is to highlight the real-world contexts that STEM concepts and skills live in and were, in fact, discovered in. In order to make STEM fields more inclusive, we must keep STEM education rooted in a real-world context.
Not just one real-world context. Students’ lived experiences and real-world contexts need to be welcomed and included. That’s why we launched our Create Your Own walkSTEM program this past spring. We want to see the students’ world through their eyes! We want them to see that their neighborhoods, their favorite places, campuses, playgrounds, and parks are relevant to this thing we call STEM, STEAM, or STREAM.
What does it mean to keep STEM (or education in general) relevant? Current educator professional development often focuses on keeping lessons engaging by encouraging students to make real-world connections, but it’s often unclear exactly what this means. What does it look like to truly support a student to think outside-the-box (or outside the classroom)? This is particularly important to consider when thinking about ways to ensure there is a level playing field for girls and boys interested in STEM/STEAM. Too often, as a result of implicit gender-bias, girls are left out when it comes to finding ways of engaging them in STEM/STEAM using their unique, authentic, and personal connections.
At talkSTEM, we focus on breaking down that barrier, in part by encouraging educators to put away the textbooks and expensive STEM props or manipulatives, and asking students to simply begin to observe and question the physical world around them at a deeper level. As Dr. Candace Walkington, Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning at Southern Methodist University, writes about the walkSTEM® initiative, “….learners can see and explore how math appears in the art, architecture, and natural surroundings in their community.” She goes on, “The purpose is to help people appreciate the mathematical nature of the world around them, and to engage in conversations with each other about mathematics that normalizes its role in everyday life.” Schools like Solar Prep in Dallas that have adopted this program have seen hugely positive outcomes for students, who tend to show higher confidence in STEM classes and make more meaningful connections between content areas after participating.
Another way to cultivate the STEM mindsets of girls everywhere is to connect them with role models who share their thinking on this topic. In April 2019, in partnership with the Communities Foundation of Texas, we put together a “Women in Tech” panel, hosted at the University of Texas at Dallas. Panelists included Maya Leibman, CIO, American Airlines; Helen Malick, CEO, Figable; Ane Sacks, Vice President, and General Manager; DLP Products at Texas Instruments; and Dahlia Soliman- Powers, Senior Vice President, CIO of Digital and Enterprise Services, CBRE. This powerful discussion addressed critically important questions such as, “What is a STEM mindset?”, “Why do women need to be at the table to make decisions?”, and “What would you love to see in classrooms?“. You can watch the full playlist of our video footage from the panel.
Samantha Johnson, talkSTEM Fellow and Doctoral Candidate in Biological Sciences at UT Southwestern, also took a few minutes to talk to us about her personal connection to science and how she was inspired to pursue a career in STEM as a young student. The voices of these women and others like them are vital to continuing to advocate for the importance of reforming STEM education to ensure it includes everyone.
Nicole Small, from Lyda Hill Philanthropies, is working hard to make sure that a wide range of diverse female role models will soon be accessible to millions of girls through the IF/THEN initiative. You can read more about this work in this Newsweek article cowritten by Nicole and Margaret Hamburg, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
“We firmly believe that if we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world,” Lyda Hill, the founder of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, said in a statement. “The goal of IF/THEN is to shift the way our country — and the world — think about women in STEM and this requires changing the narratives about women STEM professionals and improving their visibility.”(from this newspaper article in the Dallas Morning News)
At talkSTEM, we are excited to partner with leaders, educators, parents, and students around the world to move forward in our collective journey to make sure that there is equal access to all girls when it comes to relevant, real world-situated STEM educational experiences for all girls. We are happy that we do not work alone and we celebrate all the girls who are engaged in a wide variety of activities as they cultivate their STEM mindsets and identities!
Interested in using walkSTEM® or other features of the talkSTEM Learning Suite to inspire girls? Let us know what you’re up to by filling out this form. You can also check out this video to get started.
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YouTube: walkSTEM Academy