With STEM at the forefront of education, there is no shortage of literature on the push for science, technology, engineering, and math in schools and how these subjects might translate into careers for our students. And with careers in STEM areas being expected to be on the rise in the future, there have been many stories about bridging the STEM gender gap. The 2015 STEM Index showed that men are being granted more STEM degrees than women, and that despite efforts to increase student interest in these fields, the STEM gender gap remains consistent.
There are a few potential culprits for this issue. One being that gender stereotypes tend to come into play. We typically see STEM jobs represented by men in the media. Walking down the toy aisle at any store reinforces these gender stereotypes. Another part of the problem might be the perception around STEM subjects. Subjects such as science and math have traditionally been taught by rote memorization, with right and wrong answers, and can be perceived as “boring”, steering students away from these careers.
Bridging the Gap
So how can we bridge this gap for all of our students, and give both boys and girls equal opportunity and engagement in STEM subjects? The arts, of course! Turn STEM into STEAM!
By infusing and aligning the arts with STEM contents, we infuse creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. We expand our teaching methods to encourage thinking outside the box and allow for artistic expression. We can promote habits of thinking and practices that are found in art, math, and science to encourage lifelong learning. We can use inquiry based learning (project and problem based) to allow students to explore STEM subjects with the option of using artistic expression to demonstrate their learning.
We can provide students with constructive feedback about their performance in STEAM subjects to allow for revision and refinement of their learning experiences. When we take away the stigmas around STEM subjects, when we break down gender divides and focus on the processes in STEAM learning, we promote STEAM thinking across the board.
It’s important to note that we should not be forcing any students, male or female, into pursuing careers in STEM fields. We should be fostering them to cultivate their passions. We can promote and instill the practices and habits of thinking that are associated with STEAM- practices and habits that will serve students in whatever career they decide to pursue. From there, we can guide them to pursue their passions, armed with the tools that a STEAM education provides: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.