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The United States is one of the few countries around the world where 15-year-old boys outperform the girls in science. This disproves the old theory that boys just have a better aptitude for science. Instead, the U.S. Department of Education believes that “improving girls’ beliefs about their abilities could alter their choices and performance.”
Inspiring a passion for science early could also help girls close the gender pay gap and gain financial independence for themselves and their families. But how do we get American girls to fall in love with science like their peers around the world?
Studies show that societal and peer pressures make girls lose confidence in their ability to master scientific concepts by about fourth grade. It’s crucial then that they learn about science early so they have faith in their scientific skills. Conducting regular, simple scientific experiments from as early as kindergarten will help build their confidence.
Appeal to Their Desire to Solve Real Problems
Image via Flickr by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Studies show that girls tend to choose their career path based on their belief that it’ll make a difference in the world. This is why girls tend to favor nurturing professions, like nursing and teaching. Teachers can help their female students become passionate about science by emphasizing the ways it can help people, animals, or the environment.
“They see that there’s some value to it, that they can make a difference in the world,” explained Tamara Hudgins, Ph.D, the executive director of Girlstart, a charity that provides science-based after-school and enrichment programs for girls. “So when we do robotics, we look for ways to apply it to real world problems, such as creating a robot that can go into an oil spill and save a pelican.”
Encourage Girls to Participate in Special Programs
Girlstart is just one initiative that creates science-based programs specifically for girls. Many local universities, zoos, museums, and parks and recreation departments also run similar schemes. Seek out information about these and other after-school and enrichment programs available, encouraging your female students to participate in them. Since these initiatives are tailor-made for girls, they can provide more targeted instruction than most teachers who must try to engage male and female students.
Teach Them About a Range of Careers That Use Science
Many girls shun science because they think it’ll lead to a masculine career. Teachers can counteract this by teaching their classes about the many varied opportunities a career in science holds. For example, a student that loves science could become a family nurse practitioner, a marine biologist, a nutritionist, a product designer, or an industrial chemist.
It’s best to speak about these careers without any references to gender, as girls are certainly capable of entering any male-dominated profession. Instead, pique their interest with descriptions about the jobs available. If possible, you could also invite male and female professionals working with science to speak to your class. These positive role models can inspire the young science professionals of the future.
Changing the way we teach science in schools is key to getting girls to fall in love with this important field and pursue it in the future.