Women's History Month, Part 2

Written by Russanne Low

We know from educational research that all students develop learning style preferences. SciGirls is a PBS show that features bright, curious middle school girls solving everyday problems using science and engineering. The producers have created a list of proven strategies for engaging girls in STEM called The SciGirls Seven. NASA Wavelength’s search capabilities enable you to select educational resources that employ instructional strategies demonstrated to motivate girls. Some of these instructional strategies include hands-on learning, cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and open inquiry. A recent NASA Wavelength search for resources that engage students using these four learning modalities preferred by girls returned dozens of activities, running the gamut from spacecraft design to solving environmental problems. You can filter Wavelength resources by instructional strategies by going to our main resource page and selecting from the list of filters on the left of the page.

Heat Trappers, Inc. is an inquiry activity where teams of students are challenged to engineer a functioning greenhouse using real materials. The activity is part of Global System Science (GSS), an interdisciplinary course for high school students that emphasizes how scientists from a wide variety of fields work together to understand significant problems of global impact. This team emphasis is especially important for reaching girls, because we have learned that the cooperative and social aspects of prospective careers are important considerations for young women. Girls also respond well to activities that they find personally relevant or meaningful, so lessons that address real world problems tend to be well received.

The four activities in Active Astronomy use hands-on learning for students in grades 7-12 to learn about infrared light. Through a sequence of activities that build on each other, girls can work in small groups as they ask questions and test their own hypotheses while building their understanding about the importance of infrared radiation to modern astronomy and space science. Research shows that girls enjoy hands-on investigations and respond positively when they are asked to suggest their own approaches to a problem.

A fun cooperative learning activity aligned to both middle and high school audiences, Rover Races, asks students to put on their engineering caps to design a Mars rover and guide it over simulated terrain. Students learn what it’s like to be a mission scientist dealing with design issues that meet the conditions of extraterrestrial planetary surfaces. The activity models the engineering design process. This activity meets many of the guidelines for engaging girls in STEM identified in SciGirls Seven: Girls are motivated when they can approach projects in their own way, applying their creativity, unique talents and preferred learning styles, and their confidence and performance improves in response to specific positive feedback on things they can control, such as effort, strategies, and behaviors.

How do you engage young women in STEM? Have any tips and tricks? Do you know of any resources that are particularly useful? We’d love to hear your thoughts!