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#GirlsInSTEM

Why is this important?

Einstein, Darwin, Watson & Crick, Mendeleev, Newton… Sound familiar? All fantastic scientists, all men.

A report recently completed by Teach First shows that on the UK GCSE science curriculum, 14 male scientists are referenced. No women are. Over the 5 UK exam boards 40 male scientists are mentioned or referenced. Only two women are. Shockingly almost half of the UK population can’t even name a female scientist!

Is it any wonder that girls do not see a future in STEM when the curriculum is full of male scientists? After all, you can’t be what you can’t see. (Thanks to @Moore2Learn for that gem!).

In a country where only 22% of STEM workers are women, it is important that we normalise the STEM subjects, so they are equally relevant to both male and female students (stats from Teach First). The image of a ‘scientist’ being an older white male, in a lab coat, with crazy hair, is a stereotype we need to move away from, and I think we are. However, we need more than just imagery, if we are not teaching our students about the actual accomplishments made by both men and women (and ensuring diversity by including BAME scientists) through history, are we really making it an observable and achievable goal for all our students?

In researching for this article, I have also read that girls feel less confident and less supported in STEM subjects at school. I found it quite upsetting that teachers are part of the problem, as it is the opposite of what I would want in my own classroom. I guess at this point, we need to step up and become part of the solution.

How should we portray women in STEM?

Women in STEM should be equally represented in the classroom to ensure that girls see STEM as a viable career prospect for them, while being careful not to over sensationalise it and making it seem out of reach. 

Personally, when teaching the structure of DNA, I like to make a point to explain who Rosalind Franklin is, as well as Watson & Crick. I spend a lot of time covering Marie Curie when we learn about radiation. There is plenty of content in the curriculum which we can link to women in STEM, but we must do it consciously, as it is not already there for us in black and white. I myself am guilty of not including more women in my lessons historically, but I am trying harder- hence my involvement in this campaign!

Promoting women in STEM does not have to be limited to the science classroom either, why not research and write about the careers of women in STEM for an English assignment? Or do some History lessons that cover timelines of some of the scientific breakthroughs that have led to where we are today? All the while ensuring that students are aware that they could be a part of something like this themselves one day. Beyond that, STEM is incorporating so much more than science, how much women are discussed in Math and Technology lessons? Can they be incorporated more?

What should we be doing?

Representation: First, how many women scientists are talked about in the classroom? Included on displays? How many female scientist’s faces are being seen in the classroom when compared to male scientists? I would say that this is already being done to some extent across the country, but is largely based on individual teachers/departments choosing to do this.

 

Teaching explicitly about male and female accomplishments equally: More than just displaying a Women in STEM display board, or celebrating women during science week, how can the accomplishments of women in STEM be portrayed equally in the actual curriculum? Admittedly, this is a harder challenge and would require more work to include content that is not actually on the curriculum (until there is more reform of the curriculum itself).

Until there is a curriculum reform that does show men and women as equals in the STEM subjects, it will be up to us. Teachers will have to incorporate their own examples into the curriculum, so girls are hearing these examples every day and it is normalised.

Thanks to Dr. Jess Wade, there are now far more Wikipedia pages for Women in STEM, meaning our students will be able to find information a lot easier than in the past. See more about what Dr. Wade has achieved here

Examples to include: Biology

  • Rosalind Franklin: A prolific Biochemist, her team produced the first X-ray of DNA and enabled Watson & Crick to develop their double helical structure theory. The structure of DNA is included in the curriculum, so a perfect opportunity to introduce your students to Rosalind!
  • Mary Anning: A fossil guru from the UK, she discovered many fossils along the coast of Dorset in the early 1800’s. She discovered fossils of Plesiosaurus, Ichthyosaurs and Pterosaurs. She was refused admittance to the Geological Society of London, and many of her discoveries were published with no credit to her. You can include her discoveries when teaching about fossils as evidence for evolution.
  • Jane Cooke Wright: American Oncologist, among her many achievements she developed and pioneered the use of human tissue cultures instead of mice to test potential cancer drugs. Link this to the Biology topic covering development and trialing of drugs.
  • Nettie Stevens: Discovered the sex determination chromosomes (XX and XY), her discovery is taught in Biology classrooms across the world, so she should be a household name, sadly not. You could include her in the genetics section and give her the credit she is due!
  • Barbara McClintock: An American Geneticist working through the mid 1900’s in America. She was not allowed to have a degree in Genetics, so instead was awarded one in Botany. She discovered the crossing over of chromosomes during meiosis in maize plants, leading to recombination of genetic traits. You could include her groundbreaking research when teaching meiosis.
  • Marie Daly: First African-American woman to receive a PhD in Chemistry. She worked on various aspects of Biochemistry including the digestive system and how cholesterol impacts the arteries in the heart. You could include her work when teaching about non-communicable diseases.

Examples to include: Physics & Chemistry

Chemistry:
  • Dorothy Hodgkin: British Chemist and 3rd woman to win a Nobel prize. She made important discoveries around the 3D structure of molecules including insulin, penicillin and vitamin B-12. You could include her work when discussing atomic structure, bonding and modelling of chemical bonds.

Physics:

  • Marie Curie: You can easily include this double Nobel prize winning scientists when covering the topic around radiation.
  • Ida Noddack: She developed the theory around Nuclear fission, discovered an element and was nominated three times for the Nobel prize in Chemistry. You could include her work when discussing atomic structure, or as part of the space physics (Triple science only).
  • Chien-Shiung Wu: Known as the ‘First Lady of Physics’, she worked on the Manhattan Project during World War 2. She completed a lot of work on Beta particle decay, and disproved the ‘Law of Conservation of parity’. You could discuss her work in the Radiation topic when discussing behaviour of beta particles.
  • Annie Easley: Annie was a rocket scientist that did work on the computer programming and navigation for many NASA launches. She also did some ground-breaking work on electric batteries that laid the foundation for today’s hybrid cars. You could include her work on batteries when discussing the need for renewable energy sources.

Examples to include: other STEM subjects

  • Ada Lovelace: Mathematician and writer, considered to be one the world’s first computer programmers.
  • Katherine Johnson: Mathematician who worked for NASA and ensured the success of many US space missions, including the first human to orbit the Earth and the moon landings. When digital computers where first being used, the engineers asked Katherine to check that the calculations were correct!
  • Wang Zhenyi: Mathematician and astronomer in the 1700’s. She wrote papers explaining trigonometry and the principles of multiplication and division.

Resources

There is already a plethora of resources available online to get teachers started in making a more equally represented curriculum, so I have collated some of what I can find as a starting point. This list is not exhaustive, there is plenty out there that I have not included!

 

•  These amazing posters from Nevertheless (a podcast about Women transforming Teaching and Learning through Technology). These are perfect for a classroom display, hopefully with the idea of normalizing women in STEM. I would probably include men on my display too, so we are equalizing the role of women in STEM and not sensationalizing them.

•  While you are there, they also have a fab podcast episode about why role models in STEM are important for young people to help them pursue their own future STEM career.

•  Not entirely focused on women in STEM, but here are a great set of posters available from Nitty Gritty Science that you could rotate as ‘Science job of the week’ or just have displayed year-round to show a glimpse into the diversity of careers available in STEM, which all students may not be aware of.

•  If you are looking for some fab resources, ready to go and with great diversity, check out these worksheets created by @AlMacHistory. They contain lots of examples of women in STEM and are research based activities.

•  Introduce your students to some of the amazing women working at the cutting edge of STEM. There are lots to follow on Twitter, you could possibly arrange a Zoom/Skype meeting with them! I have made this list to get you started, however there are so many more out there!! Use social media to your advantage to encourage engagement with those in STEM!

•  Women in Science is a brilliant book by Rachel Ignotofsky are available online, here is her website. She has books and postcards outlining women in various fields, not just science!

•  Here are some links to ready-made lessons that discuss women in science along with other contexts:

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/women-science

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/women-in-culture-learn-anywhere-googlearts-12309710

https://www.wgu.edu/heyteach/article/7-women-scientists-to-integrate-into-your-lesson-plans1709.html

Final thoughts...

I really feel that in this article I have barely scratched the surface of what we can/should be doing to promote STEM to our girls, but hopefully it is a start and you can get some ideas of where you can make a start at ensuring equal representation in your classroom.

I would like to point out that this is not an issue limited to the STEM subjects. While researching this article I found that female and ethnic minority authors are largely missing from the English curriculum throughout secondary school. Only in A level and HE are students exposed to more female authors. We should be working to have equal representation of all genders and race across our subjects. Only then can we unlock the potential that is sat in our classrooms everyday…