Monday, March 30, 2020

Enriching Education: We All Can STEM

Did you know that although girls and boys show similar interest in STEM subjects during elementary school, a 2017 study found that by age 15 just 42% of the girls surveyed said they would consider a career in STEM? 
In conjunction with Women’s History Month, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) has launched the “We All Can STEM” initiative to encourage all children to explore STEM — because we know the future of innovation requires diverse perspectives to solve the world’s most complex challenges.
Our goal is to share a very important message: Innovation is for everyone. We want to educate your readers about the importance of introducing children of all genders to female STEM role models and promoting exposure to innovation at an early age — and most importantly, to help them encourage children in their lives to explore and love STEM!
If our girls were introduced to female inventors like our boys are to male inventors, experts say the current gender gap in innovation would decrease dramatically. Together, we can make that happen! STEM-based camps such as NIHF’s Camp Invention® offer amazing, fun-filled ways to show children that we all can STEM — by introducing them to innovators and careers they can relate to and see themselves in.

I had a chance to interview  Krissy Hostetler, Education Team Specialist at the National Inventors Hall of Fame:

How does interest in STEM compare between boys and girls as they get older?
Women have been historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Despite showing similar interest in STEM compared to their male peers in elementary school, when young girls grow up, a majority pursue careers in non-STEM fields.

The issue with this underrepresentation is that it is negatively impacting STEM fields in terms of ensuring diverse ideas and solutions are available. Given that women make up roughly half the population, missed representation means missed data and perspective.

What are some factors that contribute to the differences?
Underrepresentation leads to underestimation which then breeds a vicious cycle. Negative stereotyping and lack of role models contribute to dwindling interest in the math and sciences as girls grow older.

How can camps like Camp Invention help spark or maintain interest in STEM careers?
Children need to see innovators with whom they resonate. This is a critical part of what our programs, like Camp Invention, do with giving children exposure to a diverse array of inventors. Camp Invention engages children in hands-on opportunities to be creative and build problem-solving skills. Research has shown that even just one week of Camp Invention results in significant short- and long-term improvements in creativity, STEM interest, collaboration and problem solving.

How can parents support their daughters in pursuing STEM interests?

If we want to have our girls ready to jump into the innovation ecosystem, we need to cultivate their creativity from an early age. Babies and toddlers are exploring gravity, center of balance and other science principles from the moment they start to move. Pursuing STEM interests isn’t about having a checklist of concepts to teach and master but rather creating the space for children to make natural discoveries as well as a supportive environment in which to assimilate and test their learning. STEM is the lens through which to bring concepts to life and put them in context (e.g., building a bicycle). Parents can take advantage of out-of-school environments that promote STEM as a viable career path. Also, introducing female STEM role models at an early age can have powerful, long-term impacts.

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