Summer is coming. So is the search for ideas to support summer learning. Let’s not let stereotypes hold us back from providing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities for girls. A new research brief by NSF INCLUDES Coordination Hub and The National Girls Collaborative Project shines a light on how gender stereotypes influence the way that girls and boys are supported in STEM. “For girls, the opportunities to experience science learning activities are most often provided after they have expressed interest, whereas the same opportunities are available for boys regardless of individual differences in interest.” Research on computing also finds gender differences with parents believing that their sons show early interest and aptitude in computing and providing more computing resources to boys than to girls. These differences in perceptions and early exposure to STEM opportunities contribute to differences in boys’ and girls’ engagement and interests.
It’s not that we are trying to limit girls’ options, but we are influenced by stereotypes that limit our imaginations for what girls and boys are interested in. The good news is that we can change beliefs and behaviors. Instead of settling for the status-quo, let’s reimagine summer for girls.
With the Million Girls Moonshot, STEM Next Opportunity Fund is re-imagining who can engineer, who can build, who can invent. It is inspiring the next generation of innovators by engaging one million more girls in STEM opportunities over the next 5 years. One way we can help support this Moonshot is with the experiences we offer girls. Let’s make the summer of 2021 remarkable by supporting girls’ confidence, creativity, and talents.
Here are six ideas to introduce STEM opportunities to girls. We hope these ideas expand options for girls this summer and make STEM a family affair forever.
1. Find inspiration from a classroom or afterschool educator. There are lots of summer coding camps, tinkering workshops, and science classes. There are lots of online STEM opportunities too. That can make it hard to make the best choice. A classroom teacher or afterschool educator can make suggestions to support a budding interest or talent and set girls up for success in the next school year. You can find helpful ideas like this one to support summer learning in Summer Stride from Learning Heroes. Look for programs just for girls, for activities that are culturally responsive, and for a safe space where girls are encouraged to speak up and embrace challenges.
2. Make math meaningful and fun. Give girls a reason to learn and use math. Girls are more likely to connect to math when it’s embedded in projects that they care about. Supporting math potential in girls is especially important in light of research on gender stereotypes. Did you know that adults are more inclined to consider that girls’ achievement in math is due to effort and boys’ achievement in math is due to natural talent? The attitudes of adults — caregivers and educators — towards math can have impact on children. Ready4K has a great blog –The Mathephant in the Room — with ideas to face down our math fears and with games and activities to support math learning at home. Sign up for Bedtime Math and receive a fun set-up story, along with three math problems every day.
3. Building stuff builds confidence. Girls like to make things when given the chance. Get a girl her own set of tools so that she can build her own desk or help on a repair project around the house. Working with tools can be especially empowering for girls and build their confidence to take on all sorts of challenges. One Dozen Design Challenges provides open-ended building projects like a bookshelf, pet food stand, or picture frame. As girls work at these projects, we can show our interest in a number of ways — by inviting girls to explain what they’re learning, asking them to teach us how to do it, helping find additional resources, or working together. For more inspiration, check out Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want by Emily Pilloton-Lam.
4. Embrace the messes and mistakes. Mistakes and messes are an important part of learning to code, making science discoveries, or figuring out why the family’s printer doesn’t work. Summer experiences can help girls let go of their fear of making mistakes and instead embrace challenges. Factors that support girls in these pursuits include having ownership over their ideas and the challenges involved in pursuing their ideas, a program culture that values process over product, and encouragement to ask any questions without feeling like their ability or intelligence would be questioned. You can read more about supporting girls’ resilience in Tinkering with “Failure” with lessons learned from Techbridge Girls. Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, offers ideas to support girls in Brave, Not Perfect. You can read the transcript of her TED Talk on this topic here.
5. Summer reading and STEM. Here are some summer reads with girls and women engaging in STEM. The Girl With a Mind for Math. The Story of Raye Montague; Ada Twist, Scientist; Abby Invents the Foldibot; Lab Girl; Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom; Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. A science teacher or children’s librarian at your public library can offer their suggestions, based upon a child’s interests. Let’s bring back bedtime stories and make summer STEM reading a family affair. Reading aloud brings families closer together and doesn’t have to stop as kids get older.
6. Make this summer a STEM experience for the entire family. Check out options with your child and find one that you want to explore together. Technovation has free, family-friendly design challenges with hands-on activities that promote creativity and problem-solving. We recommend checking out Technovation’s The Creative Parent’s Toolbox with ideas for asking better questions, promoting growth mindset, and avoiding gender bias. Summer is also perfect for spending time outdoors and exploring nature on neighborhood walks or hikes in the park. Check out SciGirls CONNECT for citizen science projects with flowers, frogs, food, and more! For more ideas, check out our STEM Next blog for supporting families and summer learning.
How are you supporting girls and their families this summer? We invite you to share your ideas, successes, and lessons learned. Share on twitter and tag @girlsmoonshot
Linda Kekelis, Ph.D. I am an advisor for The Family Engagement Project for STEM Next Opportunity Fund. I have devoted my lifetime to supporting families and educators in encouraging girls in STEM. I remember how summer offered opportunities to try new hobbies like sewing and bowling and to read many, many books. I look forward to supporting fun summer activities and creating memories for a new generation of girls.
Teresa Drew. I am the Deputy Director of STEM Next Opportunity Fund and leading the Million Girl Moonshot initiative: Reimagining who can engineer, who can build and who can invent. As a young girl growing up in a rural mountain community, summer meant long days of exploring and adventuring where the sweet smell of the riverbed met fresh green grass. Moments in time that spurred a lifetime of curiosity and a love of nature. If all young people have the opportunity to get a little dirt on their hands and between their toes, our world will be a better place for all.