STEM Students Must be Taught to Fail

Plan A B

In November, US News and World Report ran a story entitled, “STEM Students Must Be Taught to Fail: Failure will teach students to take the risks necessary for innovation.” I took note because in my WomenTech Educators retention training, I teach STEM educators to teach their students to fail and I go into some detail on how to accomplish this. Learning how to fail is especially important for female students, who have often been culturally conditioned to be perfectionists. Ironically, their desire to get the “right” answer the first time can impede their ability to experiment, fail, try again, and eventually come up with the real right answer. Successful STEM students must learn to try a solution, get it wrong, and try again because this is a fundamental element of the science and technology experimentation process they must master to be successful in their STEM courses and career. According to the US News and World Report story, this unwillingness to take a risk and make a mistake is a problem that impacts both female and male students – and sometimes even their instructors. STEM educators, I’d love to hear from you if you teach your students how to fail: How do you do it? BTW, my next WomenTech Educators Training will be online and starts February 25, 2013. Don’t miss the early bird registration ending next week on January 11, 2013.

Can girls learn STEM skills by playing house?

Have you noticed that there are very few games for girls that teach STEM skills?  This is a huge missed opportunity because STEM skills learned through informal play translate into STEM skills in the classroom and an interest in science, technology, engineering and math! Recently, I was very upset to learn that PicoCrickets – MIT Lab’s more feminine alternative to the very masculine Lego Mindstorms – was discontinued. While Lego Mindstorms teach robotics and computer programming with monsters, PicoCrickets taught the same skills by making a cake sing and a cat purr. We have research in our online Proven Practices Collection that shows girls love PicoCrickets and they are effective in teaching STEM skills.

So I was really excited to come across a new toy called Roominate that puts a new spin on playing house. Girls learn how to not only the build the house with custom parts they also learn how to wire it with circuits. It was developed by three young female engineers who put it on Kickstarter to raise funds for its launch: Instead of receiving $25,000 as hoped, they received $85,965. I’m so happy that others see the value of this game too!  If you’d like to read more about Roominate and see a video about them visit the Smithsonian blog.

Another new toy for girls that I read about recently is called “GoldieBlox”. GoldieBlox, developed by a female engineer from Stanford, is a construction toy and book series starring Goldie, a kid inventor who loves to build. As girls read along with the story, they use the construction set to learn the same kinds of building and problem solving skills that boys tend to learn with Legos and Erector sets. You can read more about Goldie Blox, and the Kickstarter campaign that’s funding it, in this article from the Atlantic.

These toys remind me of one of the SciGirls videos: Get Tech, which has a segment called “High Tech Fashion”. The SciGirls, a group of real middle school girls, teams up with fashion designer Diana Eng to create a high tech evening dress, using circuits of blinking LEDs and electroluminescent wire.

My prediction is that when we have as many games that teach STEM skills that appeal to girls as we do for boys, we will have as many girls as boys interested in STEM.

Do you know of games that appeal to girls that teach STEM skills? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about them.

Having more women involved in the auto industry is a life or death matter

Can you believe that in 2012 the majority of car crash test dummies are men?  This means that the crash test ratings you may have read from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are unreliable if you are a woman.  A 2010 study by the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics found that seat-belted female drivers in actual crashes had a 47% higher chance of serious injuries than belted male drivers. That percentage goes up to 71% for crashes resulting in moderate injuries. Only since 2011 has the federal government replaced some male dummies with female dummies for crash tests. However female dummies are still not tested in the driver’s seat in frontal crash tests, even though most fatalities are from frontal crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the reason for this is that men drive more and die in greater numbers than female drivers. Yet in 2010, women were 44.1% of primary car buyers.

Because women are smaller in height compared to men, they are closer to the dashboard and this is why it’s so important to have female dummies. Additionally, women’s bodies are different; they have weaker necks for example. First generation air bags from 1998 disproportionately injured those under 5’4”, predominantly women and children, because male dummies were used. Why in 2012 are women still being left out of the picture?

I believe it’s because women are not well represented in the auto industry. Only 2.8% of car dealerships are owned by women, they make up only 11.5% corporate officers in the Motor Vehicles and parts industry, and 12.4% on board of directors. In 2010 women made up only 13% of the automotive sales workforce and 1.4% of automotive technicians. I was not able to find the percentage of women in auto design nationally, however I would venture to guess it’s not high.

To hear more about women in the auto industry listen to a radio show I participated in on National Public Radio.

Personally I believe increasing the number of women in the auto industry is a life or death matter. What do you think?

Creating a Work-Around for Recruiting Women to STEM

I don’t know how many times I have talked to educators who told me they have tried to increase the number of women in STEM but their efforts just didn’t work, so they stopped trying.  “What did you do?” I’ll say. “Oh we put up a flyer,” or “We had an open house that few women came to,” is often the kind of response I get.  Well, I know that there are at least 24 major evidence-based recruitment strategies they might have tried.  (I know this from the STEM Program Readiness Assessment for Women and Girls that we are developing.  Look out for more about the Assessment coming soon!)

It’s interesting to me, the same technology educators who might stay up all night trying to figure out how to make a computer program work, and are very familiar with the world of work-a-rounds, just give up when the first thing they try doesn’t work to recruit more women or girls to STEM. Why is that? I’d love your comments and thoughts about this.

PS  If you’d like to learn what those 24 strategies are, check out our online training.

Gabby Douglas Teaches Women in STEM Not To Give Up

Did you, like me, watch Gabby Douglas win two gold medals in the 2012 Summer Olympics? I was so happy when she won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. What a star!

What struck me, as I watched Gabby, was that although she made some serious mistakes throughout her routines while competing – such as her fall on the balance beam – she didn’t let it shake her, she didn’t quit, she just kept going, maintained her focus and did her best. And her reward? Two gold medals!

So often women suffer from perfectionism – which results in an all or nothing approach for them in life – that can mean that as soon as they make a serious mistake, they give up, rather than try again and keep going like Gabby. Research shows that when women get a poor or failing grade in STEM courses they think it’s because they aren’t well-suited for the field and often drop out. By contrast, men are more likely to think the problem was something external, such as a poor teacher, and repeat the course.

We have a number of articles in our Proven Practices Collection about retention of women in STEM that document this phenomenon and we are soon to add more! I also talk about how to counteract this dynamic with your female students in my WomenTech Educators online training.

Gabby Douglas shows us that you can be a champion and win the gold by being outstanding, taking your mistakes in stride and focusing on the future.

Educators, have you seen this perfectionism phenomenon in your classes with women in STEM? How have you overcome this?

Calypso Rose: What the “Lioness of the Jungle” can tell us about STEM

A few weeks back I saw the documentary, “Calypso Rose: Lioness of the Jungle,” about the first professional woman Calypso singer from Trinidad. Calypso Rose was the first woman to win the Calypso King contest and the Trinidad Road March competition in the 1970s. Still performing at 72 years old, she’s now written more than 800 songs. Some of her calypsos are about women’s issues such as domestic violence, and she’s used her platform of music to bring awareness around the world.

In her documentary, she talks about how much resistance she faced as the first woman calypso singer and many of the stories she told sounded so familiar – they are the stories of all women breaking into a man’s world. First, how fellow musicians tried to ban her from competing in the formerly all-male Calypso King contest, but she persisted and eventually even won the competition. Later she talked about how she was so careful not to have relations with any of the other musicians she was working with, and living with, in the Calypso tents, yet there were still rumors that she was sleeping with all the male musicians and then other rumors that she was sleeping with the female musicians. Through it all, she kept her head high, and focused on her music.

During the film, a professional female calypso singer from St. Lucia meets Calypso Rose for the first time and is overcome with emotion. She tells Calypso Rose that she has been her role model all of her life and that she helped her to see it was possible for her to pursue her own career in this male-dominated genre of music. While today, we don’t have that many more women firsts remaining in the US, the dynamic is still the same for women and girls who might be the firsts in their families, their communities, their schools, and among their friends. They still need the hope and inspiration of the female role models who have gone before them so that they know they too can do it. Not everyone can be a pioneer like Calypso Rose, pioneers by their nature are few in numbers, but all girls can feel it’s possible to be a Calypso singer, a drummer like Sheila E, an astronaut like Sally Ride, or a surgeon general like Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Or equally important, a computer network technician perhaps like her Aunt, a geographic information systems analyst like her sister, or an auto technician like her neighbor Sue. Female role models help women and girls see their own unlimited potential.

Is there a female role model who inspired you? Please share in the comments the person in your life who helped you see your own potential.

Warmly,

Donna

PS I love Calypso Rose’s music, and following the documentary I went home and downloaded her Best of Calypso Rose album and it’s my new work out music playlist! You can’t but help move when you are listening to it. Go to her website to hear her music and see clips from her documentary. I’d love to share the joy of Calypso Rose’s music with all of you!

53% of Women are Primary Breadwinners

53% of women are the primary breadwinners in their family according to a new study that just came out by Prudential last week. 30% said they earned more than their partners because of the economy. The same percentage said there had been a job loss in their household.

What this study underscores for me is just how dramatically things have changed for American families now that slightly more than half of the primary breadwinners are women. Women AND men need jobs and career pathways that enable them to support themselves and their families and provide them with unlimited potential. Many of these jobs can be found in the STEM professions.

Long gone are the days when women were considered to be taking away “men’s jobs,” it’s another era. In your opinion have STEM workplaces caught up with the new reality?

Science Cheerleaders

I recently came across the science cheerleaders site and I love it. They feature real-life cheerleaders who also happen to be scientists. One of the women they interview is an African-American surgeon-lawyer-cheerleader. And yes, as you can see, from the picture above, they are wearing the standard cheerleader outfits. What this website says to me is you can be a scientist and you can be sexy, if that’s what you choose.

Now, this website is going to drive some of my colleagues crazy. They will see this as exploitation and objectification of women. They would prefer the glorification of the geeky nerd girl.

Personally I LOVE geeky nerd girls, however I also love the science cheerleaders, and whether my colleagues like it or not, a lot of girls will identify with cheerleaders more than the nerd girls.

I want the biggest tent possible for including women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) – it’s about choice and potential – and if you have to choose to be a nerd girl to be a scientist a lot of young women will opt out. I like the idea of glamorous popular, sexy women scientists as role models and I love this website.

Becoming a female scientist in STEM should not be equal to being a nerd girl. If we ever want to significantly increase the number of women in STEM we will need to have ALL kinds of women joining the fold.

Recently, my longtime dentist, a woman of color, and mother of two, told me that maintaining her femininity has always been very important to her throughout dental school, and she never wanted to be one of the boys.

Lets have a tent large enough for all women to be in STEM – women who want to be one of the boys, nerd girls, cheerleaders, ALL women and girls should be able to work in a STEM career pathway, if they choose, without having to sacrifice their identity.

What do you think?

New IWITTS Facebook Page

IWITTS LogoIWITTS is just a few weeks into the launch of our new Facebook page and if you think closing the gender gap for women and girls in technology is important please “Like” Us by going to the page and clicking on the thumbs up icon on  top.

We only post once a day and there are many invaluable nuggets of information that we are passing on such as an article on female bioengineering students turning an everyday salad spinner into an anemia diagnosis tool for use in rural and economically under-developed regions of the world.

We’ll have many practical examples that educators can use for both recruitment and retention so don’t miss out!  We have over 100 likes already and we are hoping you can put us at 1000 by the end of the year!  Like us now!

For a more personal/insider look at IWITTS, I also invite you to Friend Me on Facebook.

Gender Diversity in STEM. Why Bother?

How does gender diversity benefit STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)?

A key goal in STEM education is “broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens–women and men, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities,” according to the National Science Foundation. Similarly, President Obama’s recently launched “Educate to Innovate” campaign cites, “expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls” as one of its three goals.

Why is gender diversity in STEM important? First, why do YOU think it’s important?, see our quick poll below with a $600 raffle prize (registration for a WomenTech Training).  I’d love your opinion.

Here’s why Donna Milgram thinks gender diversity in STEM is important.

The absence of women from STEM education and careers affects more than the women; it is a missed opportunity for those fields. Women bring a different perspective that shapes and influences STEM disciplines. Research shows that women — as a group — have a greater interest than males in how technology will be applied, in particular to help others, and women naturally have a greater understanding of what is important to and appeals to women.

Here are just two examples of how women in STEM enhance the field from a substantive perspective.

  • Dr. Bernadine Healy, the first woman to direct the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established a policy whereby the NIH would only fund clinical trials that included both men and women when the condition being studied affected both genders. Prior to this requirement, many NIH clinical trials did not include women, and subsequently research recommendations did not take into account the differing biology of women and men, and in some cases made recommendations harmful to women.
  • The Zimmer® Gender Solutions™ Knee, which was originally conceived of by a woman engineer. Nearly two-thirds of knee replacements in the U.S. are done on women; however, until the Gender Knee was developed the model for a knee implant was a male knee, which often did not fit the shape and size of women’s anatomy. The Gender Knee is specifically designed to fit the average woman and is a much more successful implant as a result.

Having more women in the picture will not only help women themselves — it will also help society benefit from their expertise — whether it’s ensuring women are included in clinical trials or developing a prosthetic knee that works better for women. We are all enriched when women fully contribute to the advancement of science and technology.


Take our One Question Poll – Why Women in STEM is Important?.