This week I wanted to learn about what 4th and 5th graders are expected to learn in their science classes. Schools follow Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in order to create a curriculum for their students. NGSS was created in 2013 in order to guide teacher curriculums in a world that is centered around scientific innovation and the understanding of concepts through a scientific lens. I found that as an outsider who is not well versed in reading about curriculums, it was a little bit difficult to find what each grade needs to learn. When I did find this information it was also difficult for me to understand why certain ideas were placed at certain points in time within a K-12 education system. I would like to look more into the reasons why children learn different parts of science at these times. Specific to the age group I am interested in, 4th graders focus on waves, energy and motion, how the land interacts with other external factors, and both internal and external structures within living organisms. Fifth graders focus on matter, water, the solar system, and engineering and design. It is my goal to discuss this curriculum with the teachers that I am meeting with and determine how closely their lessons align with the ones of NGSS.
Because NGSS was not a super time consuming topic to research, I decided to use some of my time this week to also look more into my question about what causes girls to leave STEM. According to Shapiro and Williams, stereotype threat plays a large part in whether or not girls and women perform well and stay interested in STEM. Stereotype threat is defined as “a concern or anxiety that one’s performance or actions can be seen through the lens of a negative stereotype” (Shapiro & Williams 2011). There is much evidence that stereotype threat can drastically change the way that girls perform in STEM tasks. In one study, one set of students was assigned to color a picture of a girl holding a doll or a boy holding a ball so that the thought of gender would be activated while another group did not do anything that had to do with gender. Boys and girls performed equally when there was no thought of gender, but the girls performed worse when they colored the picture of the girl. It has also been found that when female students are asked to report their gender before taking the AP Calculus exam their performance was reduced by almost 33% compared to if they report gender after the test. The thought is that when girls are taking a math test and are reminded of the stereotype that they are not as good at math they might begin to subconsciously stress about this stereotype in a way that people without the stereotype would never have to think about.
Stereotype threat has huge implications for why girls might be inclined to leave STEM. Underperforming due to stereotype threat is something young girls could get discouraged by and see science as not something that is for them. According to Shapiro and Williams, the way to combat stereotype threat is by giving girls female role models and affirming parts of their identities that do not have to do with gender or the subject at hand.
Read the Standards | Next Generation Science Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.nextgenscience.org/search-standards
Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M. (2012). The Role of Stereotype Threats in Undermining Girls’ and Women’s Performance and Interest in STEM Fields. Sex Roles, 66(3–4), 175–183. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0051-0