This question is very similar to the question I asked the first week: why do girls leave STEM? As I skimmed through different articles I felt that the answers were not very different for girls leaving STEM versus anyone else leaving STEM. Disinterest in STEM seems to come from the belief that sciences are difficult and a lot of hard work, the ways in which science is taught at younger ages, and the belief of whether or not one might be good at science.
I read another article about competence belief or ability belief and its role within gender distributions across different academic disciplines. The researchers surveyed faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from both STEM and humanities and asked a series of questions allowing them to relate expectations of brilliance within each field to the number of women involved. The authors argue that representation of women within science is not lower because of a lack of interest in science in general, but is more likely to be correlated with whether or not there is a common belief that if the discipline generally valued giftedness over discipline, there was a much lower percentage of women who received Ph. Ds for that field. This was true for scientific Ph. Ds like physics and engineering, but also for fields like philosophy and econ. The researchers found that there was no difference in abilities between female and male applicants, yet the gap is still there for the fields in which ‘brilliance’ is a valuable factor.
Another paper that I read argues that the way to get students most involved and confident in their scientific abilities is to use cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT). I talked about activity theory in my paper last week in a somewhat misleading way. What I talked about was activity theory in combination with communities of practice. Activity theory is the idea that students must do activities that relate to their own culture and have some sort of significance in their own life in order to connect with it. Communities of practice rely on activity theory and are communities that encourage engagement with STEM because a group of students are working on a project together.
The activity theory paper that I read was about research in which teachers used an activity system in the classroom that connected lessons to students’ cultural, historical, and social processes. They did this by relating various activities about different objects floating in water to Spongebob Squarepants. They state that this gives students more of a connection to the material because it is something that they enjoy and relate to. This was very exciting and fun for the students because their teacher acted as Spongebob while presenting the project. Researchers found that these students were more engaged in the activities than students learning in a typical classroom setting. I think that using cartoon characters and stories as a way for my students to connect with the material is a very good idea for getting them to be more engaged and also just making it more fun. For students that do not want to do STEM because they believe it is too hard or based off of natural talent, this style of teaching will be perfect because the fact that they can relate to parts of it will make them less scared about the parts they don’t relate to.
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
Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines. (n.d.). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1261375