Resources for educators
The barriers faced by underrepresented groups in STEM are widespread, but sparks of change can start in the classroom.
We have pulled together some useful information to support educators trying to increase participation and engagement in STEM.
Data from the most recent STEM Equity monitor reveal educators perceive boys as more confident than girls in STEM-related subject areas, with girls showing higher levels of interest and confidence in humanities-related subjects.
Educators perceive boys as more confident than girls in all STEM subjects:
- science – 29% believed boys are more confident, 5% believed girls are more confident
- technology – 40% believed boys are more confident, 3% believed girls are more confident
- engineering – 61% believed boys are more confident, 2% believed girls are more confident
- mathematics – 33% believed boys are more confident, 7% believed girls are more confident
Girls’ confidence levels significantly influence their participation in STEM subjects at school and perceptions of STEM careers. Children as young as six can be deterred from STEM education. Young girls may believe they aren’t ‘good’ at STEM or that STEM isn’t for them. This perception significantly impacts subject selection as girls progress through the school years. The attrition rate of young women and girls in STEM-related subjects significantly increases in the senior years.
Not all students get the opportunity to participate equally in STEM learning. Studies show that parents ask boys questions about numbers and counting three times more often than girls. Girls in STEM classrooms are often asked fewer questions and given less talking time than boys. This can sometimes be an effect of teachers’ and parents’ biases and unfounded stereotypes about girls’ abilities in STEM.
Educators have an opportunity in the classroom to encourage and inspire STEM education for everyone. Creating inclusive learning environments will encourage greater participation in STEM studies and careers from everyone.
Six classroom tips to improve participation in STEM education
1) Encourage the development of students’ STEM identity
Studies suggest that when children don’t develop a STEM identity from an early age, they drop out of STEM subjects because of a lack of identification with STEM subjects and careers. STEM programs in schools, such as ‘Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld’ help children develop STEM identities through play.
2) Incorporate diverse role models
The role models represented in the classroom influence how young people identify themselves and influence what they think they can and cannot do. Many women have led the way in STEM. Resources like interviews of women in Australia in the Girls in STEM Toolkit showcase the stories of women doing great things in STEM.
- Classroom strategies for inclusive learning environments
- Lessons for years 5 and 6
- Whole-school STEM engagement
3) Flip the gender stereotype
When students ask science questions, position women role models as the ‘experts’ answering kids’ questions or helping children find out the answer. In children’s books and media, the characters who are usually brave, curious and risk-takers (e.g. explorer, scientist) are men, and women are portrayed in caring or submissive roles (e.g. doing domestic jobs or princesses needing to be rescued). You can challenge or flip these gender stereotypes and try to find examples of characters who challenge the stereotype. Swap the characters or their actions in the story you’re reading.
4) Steer clear of resources and materials that reinforce gender stereotypes
Avoid resources and materials that may endorse gender stereotypes that represent either girls or boys in predetermined roles. If such representation is present in school material, use this as an opportunity to apply critical thinking and give students the tools to challenge and question the stereotypes depicted.
5) Identify connections between learning areas and STEM education and careers
Identify clear connections between learning material and the opportunities offered by STEM Careers for both genders. Interactive websites such as Future You and the Girls in STEM Toolkit clearly show the connections between subject areas and STEM careers with equal representation across the genders.
6) Reduce bias and stereotypes in activities and play
Be aware of your language and actions when doing activities with students. Avoid reinforcing stereotypes and role model behaviour and actions that challenge stereotypes, e.g. women exploring, building and fixing, and men helping, cooking and dancing.
For more resources on STEM education and tips on creating inclusive learning environments that encourage girls in STEM, head to the Girls in STEM Toolkit.
Our STEM education resources
Future You encourages children to dream big about the possibilities in STEM. Visit the Future You website to find out more about the exciting programs we’ve designed to inspire kids aged 8 to 12 to explore exciting and diverse careers in STEM.
Astrophysics On Demand with Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith
Children love to ask questions, especially curly ones, to understand how the world works. ‘Why is the sky blue?’ ‘How do rainbows get their colour?’ ‘How is a black hole made?’ Watch Astrophysics On Demand and learn all about our wonderful world and beyond.
Primary and secondary STEM education resources
Higher education STEM resources
The Girls in STEM Toolkit. (2020). Classroom strategies for inclusive STEM learning environments.
Women in STEM Decadal Plan . (2019). Australian Academy of Science
Not girly, not sexy, not glamorous’: primary school girls’ and parents’ constructions of science aspirations. Archer, L, DeWitt J, Osborne et al. ‘Pedagogy, Culture & Society (2013), 21
STEM Equity Monitor, 2021-20, Department of Industry