STEMpowering with CBS, Sparkle Labs and Plum Alley
By Sarah H. Lee
September 11, 2013
Not only are our featured products from Sparkle Labs this week delightful to behold (lights! with colors! just imagine Thomas Edison’s posthumous thrill!), they also bring a DIY attitude to learning about electronics and programming. And because these kits are fun and accessible to any beginning builder, regardless of background, they’ll hopefully attract a group that we strongly support: young women.
Just last week, Plum Alley CEO Deborah Jackson talked to CBS This Morning about how to better empower girls in the classroom so they’ll pursue science and math professionally. Through Google Hangout, Jackson and four other women with girls’ education credentials discussed the subject with Norah O’Donnell, the host for the segment. We suggest you watch the whole conversation below, but here are a few thoughts to take away.
HIGHLIGHT SUCCESS STORIES
Jackson, who’s also an advisor to the organization Girls Who Code, encouraged parents to talk about women in STEM professions that girls can relate to. For example, when girls don’t think coding or engineering are fields directly applicable to them, bring up that little-known company they just might have heard about: Facebook. “If you look at Facebook, some of its greatest features were made by female engineers,” she said. “Profile those women and talk about what they’re doing. We want our daughters to think, ‘That’s a viable career option.’ It’s fun, it’s the future, and if you want employment later, that’s the way to go.”
CHANGE THE DELIVERY
Talking openly about STEM field possibilities is best accompanied by a purposeful change in the way these discussions are approached. Rebecca Mieliwocki, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year, makes sure to wait until about half the students in her classroom are raising their hands to answer her questions so that everyone, including girls, will participate. “When I’m calling on kids, I don’t answer in the affirmative; I’ll say, ‘What else? Tell me more,’ and pull in information from a lot of different kids,” she said. “It’s a collaborative opportunity to build the answer together. Good teachers are hard at work making sure that the playing field is really level for boys and girls.”
Rachel Thomas, co-founder and president of LeanIn.org, affirmed that little changes can make a big difference in a girl’s academic development. She described how a study done by a Stanford professor revealed that boys tend to perform better in math when it’s taught in a traditional classroom setting since it includes more structured, rote-memory assignments, whereas girls thrived in collaborative environments and performed better than the boys did in them. She also suggests emphasizing effort over natural gifts by changing the dialogue from, “Are you good at math and science?” to “Are you trying hard enough?”
TURN UP CONFIDENCE
What’s just as important as classroom knowledge? Attitude. Sara Austin, deputy editor of Cosmopolitan, recounted a light-hearted but telling story about her young daughter, who Austin felt was too concerned when people laughed at her for being funny. Austin’s husband then wondered, “Is that a thing? Women worry about that?!” As facepalm-worthy as her husband’s reaction is, it’s true that women sometimes need a confidence upgrade. Through Cosmopolitan’s open discussion of issues like women’s health and birth control, Austin hopes that fearless attitude will carry over into the classroom, too.
It’s up to the women succeeding in STEM now to encourage future female scientists, techies, engineers, and math whizzes to keep their aspirations alive and not lose steam along the way, said Mieliwocki. She recently caught up with the very first group of students she taught 14 years ago — some of whom are now women in STEM professions — and underscored the examples they’re setting for other girls to follow. For her first graduates, she likened the science and tech industry to “a tight pair of jeans right out of the dryer — they never fit, they’re too small but you gotta get in there, buckle them up, squat and wiggle to make what is small bigger so it fits you. I see another glass ceiling [for women], but it’s made out of digital cables and wires and motherboards, so more girls with confidence have to stay, make it suitable, and pave the way for the rest of us.”