We know students decide at an early age whether they are good at math and science. We also know if a student does not believe they are good at something, they are highly unlikely to pursue that subject area.
That’s why we see that, while women make up half of the overall workforce, they make up less than a quarter of STEM workers. It’s an issue that begins much earlier than believed.
Research on students’ self-efficacy in math and science subjects shows a startling reality: girls and boys begin developing gender stereotypes and self-selecting out of these subjects as early as second grade. By the time girls reach high school, they make up only 25 percent of students pursuing science and engineering pathways.
That’s why we must inspire and engage all students at a young age in these subjects. Students come to school with the natural curiosity of an engineer or computer scientist, always asking “why?” and we must encourage them to pursue that learning. Providing these learning opportunities as early as Pre-K helps students build confidence and interest that can have a lasting impact, but only if the experience is responsive to students’ backgrounds, cultural perspectives, traditions, and knowledge.
To show girls that STEM is for them, programs should elicit and value students’ prior experiences and give them a sense of belonging in the classroom. Encouraging students to work in groups to learn and value diverse perspectives, allowing student choice regarding relevant projects and problems, and providing all students with opportunities to contribute to the learning experience are critical to engaging more females in these subjects.
By providing students with early access to these learning experiences, we empower them to thrive no matter what career path they choose. Students, such as Project Lead the Way Launch student Addie, can then say with confidence, “When I think about my future, I am most excited because I can be ready for anything. Even though we don’t know exactly what that future will be like, we know that we will need to be prepared for it.”
Dr. Vanessa Stratton, Vice President of Programs, Project Lead The Way, [email protected]