First, let’s talk about research behind STEM representation.
Some factors that contribute to women’s lack of entrance into STEM include the perception of STEM careers as a solitary profession, women in computer science being presented as ‘weird,’ and presenting the activities as focused on machines rather than people or social issues. Underrepresented minorities experience a lack of mentors, limited access to advanced science courses, and often socioeconomic factors that can disproportionally impact their communities.
These differences begin early, with students being exposed to stereotypes about STEM careers as early as elementary school, and confidence level differences often beginning in middle school.
There are some promising recommendations in the research on improving the representation of both women and underrepresented minorities. These include:
Improve growth mindset
So students understand they can improve their science and math skills and don’t accept the stereotype threats that they are just less good at it.
Develop spatial skills
These skills, or being able to picture and rotate a 3D object in your mind, are essential in high level math. Studies show action video games are just as effective as training, and that these skills can close the gaps for girls!
Positive Role Models
It’s perhaps one of the most well-know strategies, but it’s still true. Underrepresented students need to see themselves represented in potential STEM fields.
Show STEM careers are creative & collaborative
Fight back against the stereotype that STEM careers are weird and focused on machines. Show students how scientists must work together and approach problems in creative ways.
Demonstrate what scientists actually do
In a similar vein, understanding the work that scientists actually do is essential, as students often have a skewed idea. Together, these approaches show STEM careers as much more interesting for a broad group of students.
Show how scientists’ work benefits society
And, one of our favorites — why does science matter? Let’s connect to local issues your students can relate to, and issues of global importance. Going forward, your students really can change the world!
Connecting to potential local experiences of food insecurity and not being able to afford ideal food options.
Focusing on a social impact topic of extinctions that many students find important, and focusing on the collaborative nature of scientists working together.
High-awareness and important social issue that has been relevant in the U.S. with Flint, and connects it to engineering for solutions.
Directly teach your students about the concept of stereotype threat (actually doing worse because of a negative stereotype, like girls doing worse on math), which can then result in better performance, especially on high-stakes tests.
Encourage developing spatial skills, with things like toys that require fitting objects together or 3D/action video games. Research shows that games can be just as effective as explicit spatial skill training, and that these skills both generalize to STEM subjects and increase interest in STEM subjects.
In one study, just changing the environment of a classroom from being stereotypically male-geek (video games and junk food, Star Trek poster, etc.) to one more inclusive (nature poster, open phone book, healthy snacks) increased female undergraduate students’ interest in computer science to the same level of their male peers.
This was the inspiration for this poster set!
Send us images, stories if your students engaged with them, and even let us know if you have requests for new ones to be added to the set!