Archive for 'Gender Differences'

STEM, Girls and the Importance of Storytelling

By Guest Blogger: Amy Leask, Vice President of Enable Education

Amy Leask & Friends

For cultures like the ancient Greeks, arts and sciences weren’t polar opposites, but rather all part of the process of finding one’s way in the universe.  Astronomers, chemists, biologists and inventors didn’t view their subjects with just the objective, analytical eye of a technician, but also with the sensibilities of a poet and a historian.  They were interested in how things worked and how they could be manipulated, but they also prized the stories behind things, as well as how they affected the way people lived and thought.

A similar approach is being used by 21st Century educators to draw girls and young women into STEM.  Traditionally speaking, girls and women have been encouraged to think in terms of communication, relationships between things, and general context. Instead of focusing on the “What” and “How” of STEM, female learners tend to be engaged more in these subjects if the discussion includes “Who”, “When” and “Why”.  In other words, girls and women are being invited to tell the story of STEM, past, present and future.  Storytelling is just one of the many ways in which STEM educators can include more “female” ways of learning.

Here are a number of ways in which storytelling can be incorporated into STEM subjects:

  • Discoveries, advancements and innovations don’t just occur by themselves, but are the product of individual people.  Famous minds in STEM, both past and present, often have rich and fascinating stories around them, such as how people became involved, what made them notable, and how they were able to overcome obstacles.  Studying the stories of the individuals behind the theories and experiments gives a human context to STEM, which is something that female learners are conditioned to look for.  This practice is also beneficial because it tells the story of the many women who have been instrumental in STEM for centuries.
  • Along similar lines, learners are being encouraged to examine the sociological story surrounding STEM.  As no discovery or development occurs in a vacuum, it’s crucial to understand that STEM is meant to serve human need, and that it ultimately impacts every aspect of how people within a culture live and think.  This, again, plays into the traditionally “female” practice of learning by examining relationships.
  • Aside from STEM history, educators are also teaching specific theories and even doing experiments with the help of storytelling techniques such as storyboards, role-playing, and even the creation of digital media.  Imagine learning about the behaviour of a virus through verse, learning to code by role-playing, or writing an original song about how atoms behave.
  • Science fiction has always been an exciting forum in which to anticipate the future of STEM.  True, it has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated genre, but there are a large number of well-known female writers.  If all else fails, there’s always room for the next budding female author.

The inclusion of storytelling is just one part of STEM education becoming STEAM (with arts) and more recently, STREAM (with reading and writing).  Blending literacy and communication skills development into STEM benefits girls and women in that it validates skill sets that have traditionally been labelled as female, and brings a new perspective to these subject areas.  Moreover, storytelling makes STEM more inclusive, appealing to younger children and to male learners who might otherwise not be as interested.  Overall, learning to not just do STEM, but to talk about it, read about it and even be creative with it makes for well-rounded learners who are more ready to take on the challenges of STEM careers.

Amy Leask is VP of Enable Education and Founder of KidsThinkAboutIt.com.  She is an educator and author who believes that learning is learning, and that a complete education includes a little of every subject area.  Her professional interests include STEM/STEAM/STEAM education, 21st century learning, whole child education and educational technology.

State of the Union: Career Pathways for Working Families

I listened carefully to President Obama’s State of the Union Address last month and was pleased to hear him say, “Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. That’s why I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.”

IWITTS’ work focuses on ensuring that working women are part of the science and technology landscape with an emphasis on technician-level careers. Sometimes we are asked, “Why focus on careers at the technician level? Every girl and woman should have the opportunity to go to four-year colleges.”

True, however, if we only introduce women and girls to engineering and science careers that require a bachelor’s degree or graduate education, we will have missed the opportunity to impact the majority of women and girls who come from working families and who attend community colleges, not four-year universities.

IWITTS strives to bridge the gender gap in technology for these women and girls in particular because 1) they have made the fewest inroads in the science and technology workforce and 2) they are among those most in need of better jobs.

Women and girls of working families deserve entrée to the jobs of the future – green jobs, biotechnology, medical information technology and construction – and I am so glad that President Obama has focused attention on our community colleges and the career pathways they provide to all students.

What do you think? Should we focus primarily on professional occupations for women and girls in Science, Engineering, Math & Technology (STEM) or should we focus in all areas including at the technician level?

WomenTech PosterDid you know? Role Models are a top way to inspire women to choose careers in traditionally-male fields.

Our series of 7 posters feature real women working in trades & tech. Use them in classrooms, counseling offices and hallways to make women think twice about their career options.

Green Jobs: Not For Men Only

The bright spot on the economic recovery horizon is green jobs. Community colleges are partnering with Workforce Investment Boards to provide education/training to prepare the workforce for this new sector. But is it so new?

At a conference panel I recently attended, many of the green jobs being discussed were in power plant and construction-related occupations.  Women, who represent less than 10% of workers in these areas, have been trying to break in for years with little progress.  

In 1993, I collected data on the small percentage of women in U.S. Department of Labor School-To-Work sites and testified before Congress.  Wow, here we are 17 years later and green jobs – the crown jewel of job training – is likely to have less than 10% females. 

When asked how many women work in the power plant, the panelist replied, “One very hardy woman.”  We don’t need a lone “hardy” woman.  What we need is a unified program of change, similar to IWITTS’ achievements with the CalWomenTech Project.  We work with eight community college technology programs to develop their capacity to recruit and retain women.  The Project is being highlighted by the National Science Foundation for effective practices.

It’s 2010.  It’s just not acceptable to have women vastly underrepresented in green jobs and IWITTS can help.  I’ll be sharing our proven practices in an upcoming WomenTech Training on Feb 18/19 in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re offering great group rates, including a  3-for-2 special and discount for groups of 10 or more.   Hope to see you in February!

Funding for Green Jobs Training


 Green jobs are a priority at the U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL). The department believes that strong partnerships “are the key to the country’s success in strengthening not just training programs but also employers and industries” and “that’s why the training initiatives at the Department of Labor frequently involve strong partnerships with community colleges, local businesses, and workforce development boards.”  

In fact, over $305 million in grants were awarded by U.S. DOL in 2009 to support training for green jobs.  And just this month it announced $100 million in Energy Training Partnership Grants and another $150 million in “Pathways Out of Poverty” grants to help disadvantaged populations find employment in energy-efficiency and renewable energy industries.  This month’s grants are part of a larger Recovery Act initiative totaling $500 million — the department expects to release funding for two remaining green grant award categories this year.

Community colleges are already collaborating with workforce development boards to take advantage of grant dollars for green jobs, and there is a good chance that U.S. DOL is looking to partner with more educational institutions in 2010. So keep an eye on the U.S. DOL website for more funding opportunities in green jobs training! 

A Tale of “O” Diversity Training Video

A number of you asked me for more information about the training video that I mentioned in my Julie/Julia post. Here’s a description:

A Tale of O, the most popular video about diversity worldwide, is unique both in style and content. It shows the striking consequences of being “different” from the others around you – being an O among Xs. The videotape illustrates dramatically how this alone powerfully affects both the Xs treatment of an O and the O’s view of itself, regardless of the nature of the difference. Whether the O differs from the Xs by gender, race, age, language, age or other factors, the effects are similar.

This differential treatment of Os, especially when the difference is highly visible or socially important, is often taken as a sign of bias or deliberate discrimination. A Tale of “O” shows to the contrary that much of this different treatment is largely a consequence of the situation. It is not necessary to blame anyone, unlike many other approaches, which may punish and blame people quite unfairly. A Tale of “O” helps everyone identify with Os since everyone has been an O at one time or another. Moreover, the video suggests whole new avenues to systemic solutions. A Tale of “O” is narrated by its originator, Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School.

Here’s a link to a vendor that sells the video (in a DVD format). If you sign up for a username and password you can preview the video online in both the 18 and 27 minute format.

I used this video to do training for supervisors on how to integrate women into male-dominated occupations such as law enforcement and cable installation. I prefaced showing it by mentioning that the narrator has a high sing-song voice, which can be distracting. I’d recommend others do that as well if they are showing it in a predominantly male setting.