A recent report on the sharp decline of women in computer science since the mid-1980s has generated a lot of buzz among policymakers and journalists. Women went from making up as much as 37 percent of the field in 1984 to as little as 18 percent, according to some estimates.
What happened? No easy answer exists; the rise of personal computers, the portrayal of computers and men in popular movies that year, video game marketing have all been suggested as culprits. It’s clear, however, that as educators, we can play a role in reversing the tide that is holding women back from pursuing these well-paying and in-demand careers.
Here are a few strategies to help foster a science, technology, engineering and math mindset in your female students:
- Address girls’ self-concept. A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Education found that girls who have a strong self-concept regarding their abilities in math and science are more likely to select and pursue elective math and science courses, and then go on to choose those as majors. This is a rare trait among girls; a separate study found that girls typically rate their math ability as lower than their male counterparts, despite the achievement gap disappearing.
- Modify cooperative work groups. When putting students into groups to work on assignments and activities, consider placing students into single-gender groups or assigning roles to students in mixed-gender groups. Studies show that females are less likely to take on a leadership role when a male student is present.
- Keep track of your own interactions. Do you call on both male and female students equally? Do you ask difficult questions of students of all types? How often are you challenging your male and female students? Classroom interactions can be a source of inequity.
- Don’t accept “I’m bad at math.” Remind your students that intelligence grows with practice and hard work. For more best practices on providing feedback, check out this blog post.
- Bring in female role models. Look within your community for women who work in the science, technology, engineering and math fields and ask them to come talk to the class or ask students to prepare presentations on famous scientists and encourage students to look at the contributions of females in the field.
Post by Suzette Hackett, Implementation Coordinator