My name is Kayla Williams, I am secondary school science teacher currently based in the UK, and I run the blog Miss Osmosis Teaching Resources. I am working in collaboration with STA Travel Education on their #GirlsinSTEM campaign.
This is a subject that is very close to my heart, having been a woman in a STEM career, and now teaching a STEM subject in secondary school. I feel that I have an immense responsibility to all the girls in my classes to ensure that they feel that science could be for them, if that’s what they wanted. This is especially important as girls perform better in STEM subjects in school but are less likely to pursue as a career upon leaving education.
I do my best to include examples of women in STEM in my lessons, more than is currently required. However, doing this regularly can be time consuming, and let’s face it, the science curriculum is pretty jam packed as it is. I draw upon examples I already know about, but rarely have chance to research more examples of work by women to include in my lessons. In writing this blog for STA Travel Education, I am hoping to highlight why it is important that women in STEM are represented in school, who we can include and how we can include them, and in the process, improve my own lessons.
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.
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?
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: other STEM subjects
• 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:
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…