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Odds are, you’ve heard it before: Get your kids excited about STEM because jobs in science, technology, engineering and math are exploding. There were 8.8 million STEM jobs in the US in 2016, according to the US Department of Commerce (DOC). And 2.4 million STEM jobs have no one to fill them, according to a 2017 report by the DOC.
Since 1996, the NJ Department of Education has adopted STEM learning guidelines that incorporate “Next Generation Science Standards,” updated in 2012. They direct NJ public schools to introduce engineering concepts as early as kindergarten and emphasize STEM subjects and activities throughout high school and college.
While these standards are meant to spark engagement, there’s a gender disparity in STEM. Women make up 47 percent of the workforce, but only 25 percent of STEM workers are women. To narrow the gap, NJ educators are making STEM a priority.
Programs Geared Toward Girls
Kristina Nicosia, PhD, K-12 supervisor of STEM curriculum and instruction for the Highland Park school district, introduces simple coding in pre-K using Bee-bots, programmable floor robots that teach control, directional language and programming to young children. In middle school, the district offers girls a STEM club with hands-on activities and one-on-one contact with women in STEM fields. From sixth through twelfth grades, students transition from classes to self-directed programs that help them create, invent and learn while problem-solving.
Developing confidence and skills in STEM has also been a goal of the Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton. Beyond emphasizing STEM in its K-12 curriculum, the school engages students in STEM studies and activities, invites women in STEM to meet with them and provides opportunities to solve real-world STEM problems.
One such student is Roshni Patel, a senior who’s led more than a dozen Stuart Summer Camps, STEM nights and workshops and developed a robotics after-school class and an all-girls lower school camp. Stuart’s first #LEADLIKEAGIRL conference in 2017 provided an ideal forum for students like Patel to display their skills. Organized by Head of School Patty Fagin, PhD, the conference is open to K-12 girls, and showcases students’ STEM talents and accomplishments through presentations made by women in STEM and hands-on activities.
Educator and researcher Linda Hirsch promotes STEM for girls at the NJ Institute of Technology where, since 1978, the Center for Pre-College Programs has provided students, especially minorities and women, with access to STEM education and mentorship. NJIT’s Women in Engineering and Technology Initiative (FEMME) encourages girls to choose careers in science and tech through a four-week summer program for rising fifth through ninth graders. Not surprisingly, girls who participate in FEMME for multiple years are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college and pursue a STEM major.
Inspiring Your Tech Girl
Beyond school programs, there are many programs directed at girls interested in STEM. And even if STEM isn’t her thing, the National Bureau of Economic Research says the critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving skills often associated with STEM are transferable to any industry. And that makes these options great for any kid.
Tech Girlz, a nonprofit founded by Tracey Welson-Rossman, aims to reduce the gender gap in tech occupations by working with girls at the crucial middle school age when they most often lose interest in science (grades 6-8). Tech Girlz’ TechShopz in a Box program offers more than 50 workshops, according to National Outreach Manager Amy Cliett. Each three-hour workshop includes plans for a variety of topics, a step-by-step guide on running a workshop, procedures, tips and a Tech Girlz team member for extra support. Head to techgirlz.org/techshopz-in-a-box to sign-up.
Here are more ideas for sparking her interest in STEM subjects:
• Teach Her to Code: Girls Who Code finds coding classes for girls. Through its app, Girls Who Code Loop, students, alumni and teachers can connect according to their interests. Another online option is Google’s Made with Code, where girls learn code while having fun with projects like Yeti, Kaleidoscope, Emojify, Snapchat Geofilter and Wonder Woman. For summer coding camps, go to njfamily.com/stemcamps.
• Find Role Models: Seek out books about women in STEM careers. Check out Women in Science: Then and Now by Vivian Gornick; Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs; Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani; the Nick and Tesla series (grades 4 to 6) and Andrea Beaty’s Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere and Engineer.
• PBS SciGirls: Programs are geared toward kids ages 8-12. SciGirls features tween girls—not actors—putting science and engineering to work in their lives. Reach out to family members, friends and co-workers working in STEM careers. Introduce your daughter to these women—mentorship makes a big difference. Visit websites like the Society of Women Engineers and Association for Women in Science to learn about working in these fields.
• Encourage Her Curiosity: Find opportunities to introduce her to creative thinking and problem-solving. Teach her to be curious, to ask why things do or don’t work and try new things. Host a science-related group competition with other girls. Show her how STEM classes and activities can relate to future career opportunities. Get her building with problem-solving kits such as Triazzles, Little Bits and Makey, and monthly kit subscription boxes like Tinker Crate or Bitsbox. Toys like Goldie Blox, LEGOs and Wonder Workshop Dash Robot also challenge girls’ creativity.
• Get Her Involved: Consider joining Girl Scouts. Most councils offer members more than ten projects a year to engage girls in STEM topics and scientific reasoning. Among these are STEM-related badges and journeys, and the Imagine Your STEM Future program, which connects girls with female role models. Check out summer, after-school and weekend programs at libraries and museums. Go to njfamily.com/stem to find NJ programs and events that focus on STEM.
Karen Gibbs is a freelance lifestyle writer based in Louisiana.