The Girls in STEM club will be based in effective pedagogy, which is the science of teaching students in the most effective and beneficial way. This is a club just for girls, so one might think that we plan to teach lessons in a way that is better for a girl’s brain. I actually want to steer clear of language like this because there is evidence that girls do not necessarily learn any differently than boys, I just want to create a space and community in which they can grow to see their capabilities within science.
Debunking Brain-Based Education
Since I will be teaching girls specifically, I thought that it would be best to research the best ways to teach a girl’s brain. It turns out that there is not a specific effective pedagogy for girls because all girls are different and learn in a variety of different ways. Though it is great to think that there is neuroscientific research that can back up different styles of teaching, generalizing teaching in this way can actually be harmful to different groups of students. One brain-based generalization that is often made is that girls are more left brained and boys are more right brained, meaning girls allegedly favor more logic based types of work like language and analysis. This obviously is true for some girls, but it is not true for all girls, and assuming that this is the way that all girls learn could be very harmful in the way we teach or form ideas about what girls are good at. Whether it’s girls or boys, it is best to teach using a variety of different methods instead of trying to focus on what specific learning style might fit a gender best.
Tenets of Effective Pedagogy in Girls in STEM
Growth mindset is the idea that intelligence and skill is developed through hard work rather than natural abilities. This is important for Girls in STEM because girls often have lower competency belief, so if they begin to see that success in STEM does not have to mean immediately being good at everything, they may be more inclined towards STEM.
Community of Practice
Community of practice is a framework for learning that allows the subject to become a part of a girls identity by working towards a specific goal with a group. If you engage with a specific community (such as Girls in STEM) regularly, you will begin to see this as a part of your identity. This is good for girls who might not yet see science as a community they belong to.
Activity theory is the idea that working towards a specific goal using hands-on activities and connections to culture is one of the best ways to help people feel connected to the work they’re doing. An example of activity theory is using a made up story about needing to save Spongebob in Bikini Bottom by doing a sink or float experiment. This gives students a connection with scienc that they know: Spongebob, and a goal to strive for: saving Spongebob. Connecting activities with popular media is a great way of using activity theory, but it can also be used to connect to a student’s more specific culture. In one study, a Native American student was able to learn more successfully when he connected his schoolwork with nature and other important parts of his Native American culture than when he just tried to learn facts from a textbook.
Kolokouri, E., & Plakitsi, K. (2013). A Cultural Historical Scene of Natural Sciences for Early Learners. In K. Plakitsi (Ed.), Activity Theory in Formal and Informal Science Education (pp. 197–228). SensePublishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6091-317-4_8
Farmer-Dougan, V., & Alferink, L. A. (2013). Brain Development, Early Childhood, and Brain-Based Education: A Critical Analysis. In L. H. Wasserman & D. Zambo (Eds.), Early Childhood and Neuroscience—Links to Development and Learning (pp. 55–76). Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6671-6_5
Vongkulluksn, V. W., Matewos, A. M., & Sinatra, G. M. (2021). Growth mindset development in design-based makerspace: A longitudinal study. The Journal of Educational Research, 114(2), 139–154. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2021.1872473
Wade-Jaimes, K., Cohen, J. D., & Calandra, B. (2019). Mapping the evolution of an after-school STEM club for African American girls using activity theory. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 14(4), 981–1010. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-018-9886-9
Hughes, G. (2000). Marginalization of Socioscientific Material in Science-Technology-Society Science Curricula: Some Implications for Gender Inclusivity and Curriculum Reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(5), 426–440. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(200005)37:5<426::AID-TEA3>3.0.CO;2-U