Are you raising a future scientist? Experts believe our daily lives will continue to become more technologically-advanced in the coming years, and they project that the careers of tomorrow will be more deeply rooted in math and science.
Now is the time to help your child develop her Math-Logic Smart by learning more about the STEM fields.
What is STEM?
There are only four letters in this acronym, but these four letters encompass a great deal. In recent years, educators, parents, political leaders, and those in their respective STEM fields increasingly talk about STEM and its importance.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics; and includes the following possible careers, just to name a few: mechanical engineering, pharmacology, computer science, information science, biology, chemistry, applied mathematics, nutrition sciences, and biomedical engineering.
Further, in an effort to become more globally competitive, these leaders oversee an urgent push to expose students from elementary through high school to the STEM fields. Those who believe in the importance of STEM target girls in particular as an underrepresented group.
Importance of STEM
The urgency for greater adeptness in the STEM fields comes with sound reason. Historically, U.S. students have had a difficult time keeping up with their international counterparts in terms of math and science test scores; yet most careers in the future will require some degree of math and science knowledge. In addition, technology pervades daily life, but schools often fall short when it comes to preparing students for the STEM fields.
The global culture and economy are rapidly changing, and students must rise to meet the demands of these changes. According to the United States Department of Commerce, STEM skills serve as a crucial part for 80% of the fastest growing and often recession-resistant occupations in the country. There is no better time than now to focus on the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators.
Girls and STEM
Perhaps more alarming than the United States’ need to become more globally competitive in the STEM fields, is the fact that girls seem to shy away from STEM careers. Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, but only about a quarter of them hold STEM positions. In addition, more girls pursue careers in law and medicine, but few choose computer science and engineering.
The U.S. Department of Commerce found that only one in seven engineers is female as well. Those women who do earn a STEM degree are less likely to hold a STEM position than men. More specifically, about 40% of men with STEM degrees work in STEM jobs, but only 26% of women with STEM degrees work in STEM jobs. There is a clear disconnect between what girls can actually accomplish and what they choose to accomplish. The possible reasons for this disparity are numerous.
From a young age, girls seem to get the message that math and science is not for them. Well-meaning parents, popular culture, toys, and even schools deliver this message. Parents often set their daughters up for a self-fulfilling prophecy when they casually — or sometimes dramatically — mention, “Oh, I wasn’t that great at math when I was in school, so you probably won’t be either,” or, “Biology was my worst subject!”
The parents may mean both of these statements, but these messages speak loudly to impressionable girls. Girls also receive this message from their clothing choices. ABC News notes that JC Penney produced a t-shirt for girls ages 7-16 that read, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.” In addition, Forever 21 sold a t-shirt that said, “Allergic to Algebra.”
Even toy companies try to address this issue, only to seemingly backfire. Lego rolled out its Lego Friends line in January 2012 in the United States, ostensibly in an attempt to steer young girls toward a world of engineering. With these kits, Lego invites young girls to a pretend world where they can lounge by a pool, shop, brush their hair in a mirror, or sing at a club.
Many critics believe that this simplistic line of pink and pastel Legos only reinforces gender stereotypes, rather than encourage young girls to consider a future in engineering. With the many mixed messages girls face, it’s not surprising some lose confidence when faced with a future that involves math and science.
Lack of Opportunities and Female Role Models
Other possible barriers to girls embracing the STEM fields are lack of early STEM experiences and female role models in the STEM fields. While many schools offer hands-on math and science activities and after school science clubs and robotics programs, just as many do not. Lack of funding and resources or teachers’ and administrators’ limited knowledge of how to navigate these programs often result in this dearth of opportunities.
Many girls show interest in STEM, but the adults in their lives leave their intrigue uncultivated. According to the Girl Scout Research Institute, “Research shows girls start losing interest in math and science in middle school.” To combat this, girls must have opportunities to see real women working successfully in the STEM fields, especially before early adolescence.
Field trips to science and technology museums, female guest speakers from the STEM fields, and the implementation of after-school math/science-based enrichment activities can all help spark and nurture interest.
STEM and Future Goals
Perceptions of the STEM fields are often incompatible with girls’ future goals as well. While there are some exceptions, many young girls have high hopes of helping others when they start planning for their future. Therefore, some girls pursue jobs in education or the health care field where they can more readily see the difference they can make.
Accordingly, many girls dismiss the STEM fields when pondering possible careers because they think they can’t fulfill their altruistic goals. However, the Girl Scout Research Institute points out that STEM careers can put girls in the position to cure diseases, invent technology to help others communicate, or even help protect our country from various kinds of threats. Girls can make a major impact on people and the world by pursuing a STEM career; but young girls won’t know this unless someone tells them and shows them.
What Can Parents Do?
There are several federal and local initiatives designed to address the issue of girls and the STEM field. However, you are your child’s first teacher, and can help set the foundation for future success. With this in mind, there are several ways you can encourage an interest in STEM:
-Expose your daughter to a woman who works in a STEM field. Ask friends, teachers, or community leaders to help you network if you don’t know one. Perhaps this woman could speak at your child’s school.
-Support your child’s STEM interest by taking her to science and technology museums. In addition, consider purchasing STEM based apps for her devices, get her a home chemistry set, or sign her up for a camp or an after school club that involves math, science, or engineering.
-If you have a younger daughter, consider giving her toys that are traditionally deemed “boys’ toys.” This might include cars, robots, rocket models, or Lego kits that encourage her to solve problems and use her creativity- even if there is not pink on the packaging.
-Avoid contributing to potential gender stereotypes by projecting your own fear or anxiety about STEM-based subjects such as chemistry, algebra, or physics. You can set the tone for your child’s math/science experience by communicating a positive attitude regarding these subjects.
-Teach your daughter that she can reach her career goals through the STEM fields. Brainstorm what she hopes to accomplish and then make a list of potential careers in which she can attain her goals. She can make a difference with a STEM career.
STEM for the Future
While a single experience, speaker, or event can inspire some girls, many will turn toward a STEM field after years of exposure. Often, those who are most successful in the STEM fields have had many opportunities to make learning connections and build confidence with these subjects.
However, it takes parents, teachers, and community leaders who are willing to create shifts in the current paradigm. In a world that is ever-changing and becoming more technological, it makes sense to embrace this growth for the future. Check out the Resources section for websites you can explore with your child.© Copyright 2014 Julie Lemming, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting