Do you want to encourage your girls to learn more about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), but feel intimidated because you are not an expert? Has it been years since your last lab class in school? Does your last math class just feel like a distant memory? Fear not—we’re here to help!
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The importance of STEM in today’s world cannot be understated. From programming and building apps to architecture, engineering, and science, more and more jobs these days are STEM-focused. The STEM skill set of reasoning, logic, and creative problem-solving are broadly applicable across all career fields. GSUSA has developed four STEM Outcomes to help volunteers and staff alike understand how girls benefit when they participate in Girl Scout STEM programs.
- STEM Interest—girls think STEM is exciting and want to engage in STEM activities.
- STEM Confidence—girls have confidence in their STEM skills and abilities. Girls and boys do not differ in their math and science abilities but do differ in their interest and confidence in STEM subjects. As young as second grade, girls start to lose confidence and start to identify that STEM is for boys, not girls. It’s important for us to encourage them to believe that they can do, and be good at, the science activities they try.
- STEM Competence—girls think critically and creatively to solve problems.
- STEM Value—girls recognize that STEM is related to their everyday lives and can help make the world a better place.
With GSUSA’s new STEM badges and Journeys, there’s no better time to start learning more about STEM! These new badges and Journeys introduce girls of all ages to a wide range of skill-building opportunities in areas like robotics, programming, and citizen science, as well as increase their confidence in STEM topics and fields. Luckily, you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to incorporate STEM into your troop meetings! Here are 5 easy tips to help you feel more confident in your own ability as you lead your girls in STEM activities and expose them to STEM-powering resources:
1. Learn alongside them (you don’t need to know all the facts!)
When working on science activities with girls, don’t worry about being an expert in the field. Emphasize STEM skills such as critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Encourage girls to observe, ask questions, and experiment. If they have questions about science specifics, look up answers with them on reliable websites or in books with proper citations. Seeing adults model responsible research techniques, investigate with curiosity, and learn with enthusiasm helps girls internalize the core principles of science and the spirit of innovation.
Pro Tip: Not sure if a website or article is from a reliable source? Take a look at this video from KQED’s “Above the Noise” on how to spot bad science reporting.
2. Present them with strong female STEM role models for inspiration
There are so many incredible and diverse women in STEM! Invite a female STEM professional to your meeting to share aspects of their job, the education they needed to start their career, and something about their personal life. Knowing that a STEM role model likes to hike with her dog, play soccer, or binge watch Netflix on weekends helps girls see STEM professionals as people like themselves. This role model may be a relative or friend of a troop member, volunteer from a local corporation, or a woman from a STEM mentor site such as Fab Femmes. Be sure to prep both the role model and the girls prior to the visit, and check out Techbridge for Girls “Role Model Matters” Toolkit for some helpful tips.
If you can’t get a role model to come in person, have your girls choose one of the great women in STEM history to learn more about! Mae Jemison (the first African American woman to go into space), Ada Lovelace (the very first programmer ever), or Tu Youyou (the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine) to name a few. Check online for talks by pioneering women in STEM, such as this speech by Dr. Christine Darden of Hidden Figures fame or websites like Women@NASA (you may even be able to find an in-person seminar to attend). Seeing women from all over the world succeeding in STEM careers will make sure your Girl Scouts know they can do the same.
3. Let girls’ interests guide the meeting
When material is new or intimidating to us, you may feel the need to spend lots of time carefully planning the meeting minute by minute. But if you move your focus away from explaining facts and toward asking questions, the girls can take the meeting in a direction based on their interests, discoveries, and ideas. Yes, it may mean that the meeting goes long or needs to be continued next time, but having the girls lead the meeting increases learning and inspires them to follow their curiosity in the future. So if girls are really interested in an activity and want to keep at it, or if they have a question that they want to explore, let them! You can also support girls in taking the lead by letting them do the hands-on work themselves. Although it’s tempting to jump in and “fix” something for a girl, it is important in building STEM confidence that a girl can see for herself that she can do it!
4. Have girls work in pairs or small groups
Girls enjoy learning by working cooperatively on a common goal. Set some ground rules at the beginning of the meeting to make sure everyone understands the project and has a chance to express their idea, and then let them dive in! Working in pairs or small groups gives girls the chance to learn from each other, practice using their new knowledge with less pressure, and take on a leadership role with their peers. If you let them work together, you can step back and learn from them! You’ll be amazed at how much prior knowledge and experience they bring.
Pro Tip: Try using the “Think, Pair, Share” strategy to encourage girls to share their ideas and elicit richer discussions.
5. Do hands-on projects using everyday materials
The two key concepts here are “easily acquired” and “hands-on”. Expensive, technical equipment may be cool, but taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy is the best way to explore the world of STEM! STEM learning can happen anywhere, not just in school or a science lab. Let girls use easy-to-find materials (including stuff collecting dust at home!) to design, build, and experiment—this gives them a more practical application of what they are learning. Hands-on projects keep them engaged and allows them to work at their own pace, testing their ideas, and re-testing to get their questions answered. Your role is to ask them questions like “How did you come up with that idea?” or “How do you think you can solve that problem?”, rather than giving them an answer.
Ready to get started? Here are some easy ways to get going!
- Learn about STEM badges and Journeys: Check out these more detailed descriptions of all the new STEM awards for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors. You can also use GSUSA’s online Badge Explorer to investigate the different STEM badges available. Make sure to select “STEM” under the topic menu. We are also anticipating the release of several more STEM badges and Journeys, including Space Science badges and STEM badges for older girls, in time for Fall 2018.
- Please know: there are many wonderful resources about the new STEM program materials available to troop leaders and Service Unit volunteers on the online Volunteer Toolkit.
- Reserve a STEM Program Box: GSNorCal’s STEM program boxes are filled with hands-on activity materials and step-by-step instructions, designed to introduce girls to the science and technology we interact with every day. Using program box materials, girls collaborate to explore everything from animal habitats to engineering with wind power. Troops, groups, and individuals can borrow a program box from the council to make a Journey connection, earn a skill-building patch, or just have fun with something new.
- Find a local Girl Scout STEM event: Find programs and events for Girl Scouts at collaborating museums and community partners with Activity Finder. Make sure you type the word “STEM” in the keywords section.
- Check out these online resources:
- Take a look at GSNorCal’s STEM webpage for even more to explore. Discover awesome programs like our Robotics teams and our Space Science offerings!
- Did you know? GSUSA and Netflix have collaborated to create a handy online resource that encourages Girl Scouts across the country in becoming STEM Superstars!
- Learn more about techniques to engage girls in STEM with the SciGirls Seven.
- Check out GSUSA’s handout, “Generation STEM: Tips for Girls“.
Elspeth Kersh—Elspeth is a STEM Program Manager for Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she develops and supports all kinds of STEM experiences for girls. Before joining the Girl Scouts, Elspeth worked as an educator at the Lawrence Hall of Science and the Oakland Zoo. When she is not at the Girl Scouts office in Alameda, she can be found fishing with her husband, trying new recipes, and singing silly camp songs.
Jean Fahy, M.Ed—Jean is the STEM Program Director for Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she and her team partner with experts and volunteers throughout the council to offer unique STEM experiences to girls. She has taught math and science at elementary through high school and has spent many summers as Girl Scout Camp staff sharing her love of nature with girls. When she is not involved in Girl Scout activities, she loves to hike in the Oakland hills and camp in the Sierras with her family and dog, Tyler.