Attract female students to STEM subjects

Cedar College staff in South Australia are determined to increase the proportion of female students choosing to study science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) in upper school.

Trudi Wynn is a digital technology and math teacher at the school. She says that since 2016 staff have been researching why girls tend to drop out of STEM subjects, especially when they are 10 years old.

In 2021, Class 9 Digital Technology will have two girls and 12 boys. The 10th grade digital technology has one girl and 12 boys, while the 10th grade film and media has two girls and eight boys. In the past five years, a total of 36 girls and 131 boys were enrolled in digital technology (coding).

Wynn believes a major contributor to the low participation of women is the lack of transparency in these courses, especially in the technology area, where students cannot try the subjects before committing to study.

“Girls generally enjoy trying samples and gradually getting into an environment of innovation and being intimidated by large groups of men who tend to jump in and try it out,” says Wynn. “Sometimes I’d have a number of girls only to find them pulling out when a few others decided to move on,” she adds.

The work done so far

Cedar College staff used existing research to inform their practice. Wynn says she found the papers Shatter myths about women in the STEM field and Get involved in the future of STEM especially useful in helping her understand the skills future employers seek in today’s students.

The staff decided to include the principle of “preparing students for real life” in the school’s strategic plan. “We have become increasingly concerned with building key competencies by teaching students the habits that will enable them to learn and be successful adults,” says Wynn.

To this end, staff designed real-world assignments that students could explore as they investigate science and math. This also included the redesign of assessments with clear learning intentions.

Staff also examined the impact of role models on student choices in subjects. “The importance of role models comes to the fore in research,” says Wynn. “In our school we only have primary school teachers who teach technology, including robotics. I’ve been here for 11 years and the other tech chief here in our high school is also a woman. It doesn’t seem to affect our girls to come here and do these subjects. ‘

The school has also tried to take a gentle approach by organizing lunchtime activities to introduce key robotics concepts in a friendly and welcoming way. And the staff have experimented with leaving the classroom door open so that the passing students can watch the class. “Sometimes just an open door and see-through windows, room to just watch from behind for a while before you have to commit, can make the difference,” says Wynn.

The school also participated in a Madmaker Challenge organized by the University of Sydney. “The Madmaker Challenge was designed to attract students who may not previously have seen future careers in engineering, technology, or science,” says Wynn.

“We also bought some Plum Geek Wink mini robots and a number of Spheros to use in some lunch groups at the school’s resource center. The Wink robots are specially designed for girls. ‘

Construction of the innovation laboratory

At the beginning of the 2021 school year, Cedar College redesigned its Innovation Lab and purchased a range of new equipment for the students.

“We bought more flexible, colorful desks that can create spaces for collaboration. We bought brightly colored chairs, a teacher’s platform on wheels, and just installed a teacher wall cabinet for the equipment that also has a whiteboard on the doors, ”says Wynn.

The frosted glass in the classroom windows has been removed so that students can see into the room from the nearby resource center. The success of this initiative is still being evaluated. “We’re trying right now – so let’s test the theory!” Wynn says.

“We use a digital badging system to celebrate the achievement of important milestones and we also test this as a physical badge. I think when combined with the new film and media course in grades 10, 11, and 12, we could see more women adopting the skills that are socially valued, especially on social media sites like TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram . ‘

The school also bought a large TV and placed it in a prominent place in the room. “It will show videos and screenshots of student work on all aspects of technology and design,” she adds.

While much of the equipment purchased is still new and needs no evaluation of success, Wynn hopes she will see more interest among girls in the months to come. “I’m pretty excited; This is my eleventh year here and I am not losing hope. We can just adjust and then judge how it’s going and then adjust again, ”she says.

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