QUICK! PICTURE A SCIENTIST!
If you were asked to draw a picture of a scientist, what would you draw? Think about it for a minute. When faced with this challenge, many girls draw pictures of men who look like Albert Einstein. University of Michigan professor Jacquelynne Eccles says, “Young people have an image of scientists as eccentric old men with wild hair … deep in thought, alone.” Is it any surprise, then, that girls and women at all levels of science are lagging behind their male counterparts?
Sure — there have been a lot of gains, but girls are still opting out of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) classes in school and, as a result, men far outnumber women in technical fields. And even though the number of women earning high-level degrees in STEM fields has increased, tenured female faculty in four-year institutions in many of those fields are few and biases still exist. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation puts it, “while record numbers of girls are expressing interest, too few are considering a STEM field for a career — and that’s a problem for everyone who cares about the future of our economy and our world. In order to create gender balance in the STEM workforce and foster the innovative thinking we will need to power our future, we need to actively encourage girls to pursue their interests and abilities in STEM.”
So how do we do that? While it’s true that more and more women are making remarkable contributions to the world through their efforts in STEM fields, many young girls aren’t getting that message. They need to know that working in a STEM field means much more than sitting in a windowless lab with a bunch of beakers and microscopes. They need to discover first-hand that good science builds on vivid imaginations. Science is a social activity and it depends on the help and support of friends. And most of all — it’s really exciting. Three things girls love.
Parents! This is where you step into the picture. Here are six things you can do to get your daughters psyched about STEM subjects.
1. Cook up an investigation. Something as simple as baking can be turned into a way-cool scientific investigation. Try experimenting with baking powder and baking soda. Dabble with the amounts used, or leave one out when the recipe calls for it. Then sample the results. Yuck or yum?
2. Look for hidden math problems. Trips to the mall can build great math skills. Are “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” deals really a good deal? Same with dinner out your favorite restaurant. The next time you are at your favorite eatery make a list of all the items needed to make hungry customers happy, from forks to menus to food ingredients to the wait staff’s salaries and uniforms.
3. Tinker with tools. Teach your daughters to get to know the contents of the tool drawer. Screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, and nails are a girl’s best friend when it comes to engineering. Use those tools to take things apart! C’mon, you KNOW you’re dying to know what’s inside that discarded smartphone you have lying around.
4. Put their passions front and center. What are your daughter’s passions? Encourage them to look at their passion in a new way. If your daughter likes sports, saw open a tennis ball and see what’s inside. Is your kid into art? Experiment with natural dyes. If you’ve got a musician at home, invent a new musical instrument using rubber bands and household items. Kids who love clothes might also love dissecting a pair of old sneakers and peeling the layers apart.
5. Throw a super STEM party! Invite your daughters, nieces, granddaughters, and their BFFs to roll up their sleeves and do some hands-on experiments. Who has the “stronger” spit? What happens if you put a bar of soap in the microwave?
6. READ! There are some excellent new compilations with profiles of amazing women in the STEM fields. Start with Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky. Another great new title is Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs. Why not turn your kitchen into a yummy lab with Alton Brown’s Good Eats series? It’s written for grown-ups, but think of the fun you can have learning alongside your child. For all those math lovers out there, try Math Curse, written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. Adventure awaits with the Nick and Tesla series (for grades 4 to 6). And, of course, roll up those sleeves and dig into Oh, Ick! to read about a huge variety of awesome science topics combined with the joys of hands-on play.
The goal? In the future, when asked to draw a picture of a scientist, we want girls to draw somebody who looks just like them!
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Joy Masoff is the author of Oh, Ick! A mother of two, she fell into the world of gross when she became scoutmaster to a den of burping Cub Scouts, and then discovered that her Brownie troop has the same fascination with the feculent. Her books have sold well over 1,500,000 million copies.
Tish Scolnik is Joy Masoff’s daughter and an MIT mechanical engineering grad. She is the CEO of GRIT (Global Research Innovation and Technology), makers of a unique off-road wheelchair.