A Quick-Start Incubator Model for Hybrid Math and Science Programs in Kentucky’s School Systems

Abstract

An educational program “incubator” is comparable to a business incubator in that it is a start-up program that may be implemented on a larger scale if it is deemed successful. “Success” may be measured by a number of parameters: the participating students’ standardized test scores, end of course exam scores, ACT/SAT scores, number of students meeting college acceptance criteria, and/or the general perception of the program within the school district/community. A more subjective measure of success, but no less important, is the sustained interest of students (with a focus on young women) in the sciences throughout their primary/middle/and high school years. It is this subjective measure of success that led to the development of this particular “incubator” model’s concepts and strategies.

Introduction

The “incubator” model that I present is not from the perspective of a life-long educator, but from the perspective of a career scientist, an application specialist, an operations manager, and a middle school/high school science teacher for only the past seven (7) years. I readily admit that I am not an expert on pedagogy. However, I believe I have mastered thinking out-of-the-box and applying those revelations to systems that may require a different approach to achieve mandated outcomes. I do not believe the system of education in Kentucky is broken, far from it; there are many great minds and passionate, dedicated people in all levels of Kentucky’s educational system. Nevertheless, I do believe that any company/industry/system that does not embrace an investment in research and development is destined to stagnate. As we have seen with the United States’ status in math & science education in comparison to say that of Finland’s, I believe an evaluation of alternative concepts is in order.

Target Audience

This three (3) year incubator targets a student population from 8th grade through 10th grade – providing accelerated online curriculum, college affiliated dual-credit coursework, water quality and biodiversity fieldwork, science-themed monthly public presentations, and student mentoring at local elementary schools. Students would have the option at the end of year three (3) to start taking college courses full-time in year four (4), having earned enough credits to graduate from high school. The other options available to students in Kentucky would be attending the Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University, or returning to their home school and take AP level coursework plus electives (ideal for athletes with 2 years of eligibility remaining).

Student Selection Reasoning: The eighth grade student population selection is based on the following reasoning: in Kentucky, an eighth grade student’s science exposure is minimal at best. Since science is not tested in Kentucky’s middle schools at the eighth grade level, some middle schools do not offer science classes in order to double up on social studies which is tested in eighth grade. By incorporating these students into an incubator, it provides greater continuity for science students and a focus on retaining young women’s enthusiasm for the sciences.

Budget

The initial funding required for this incubator model is dependent upon the availability of resources: classroom access, classroom amenities (calculators, chairs, computer workstations, lab workstations, SMART Boards or tablets, tables, white boards), curriculum, laboratory supplies, teacher salaries, and transportation. If existing teachers are used to staff the model and a location for the program already exists then initial start-up cost may be 50-75K dollars. Annual costs, if just for resupply of used equipment and materials, are approximately 25k-40k per year.

Staffing

Full-time teaching positions: This incubator uses a POD concept. The POD concept is a middle school team model using four (4) Highly Qualified designated instructors (these are the strongest in Language Arts/Math/Science/Social Studies pedagogy and content knowledge available, regardless of certification (high school/middle school)). Project SCALE-UP is designed to support ninety (90) students within a classroom, in this model a cohort, therefore each of the four (4) facilitators will mentor fifteen (15) students per session during the school day.

Location

Location(s) for this incubator could be: an Alternative school campus, or one (or more) of the existing high schools. The selected location(s) should have sufficient space for two large classrooms with multiple electrical outlets and internet access (wireless or LAN). The classroom need to have multiple large-volume printer/scan/fax devices to support student work. One of the classrooms will be used for laboratory activities, so extra water/gas access points will be needed as well.

Transportation

Transportation to and from Incubator Site: Transportation of students will be defined by the decision for the location of the incubator site. If the site selected is on the campus of the district’s alternative school program(s) or a separate magnet school facility, then consider the transportation plan 1.

Transportation Plan 1: In the morning, students are taken to their home high school, where they are transferred to the incubator site in a second bus – arriving at the incubator site prior to the incubator school day starting time. In the afternoon, students will need to end their school day early, in order to catch the transfer bus back to their home high schools prior to the end of the normal high school day. Students will then take the normal bus route home from each high school. Depending on the number of high schools in the district, additional transportation costs will be the costs for running the transfers to and from each site. School day hours for the incubator site will need to be adjusted to allow transportation of students to and from their home high schools.

Incubator located within the High school locations: If the incubator site(s) are located in the existing high schools, then consider transportation plan 2.

Transportation Plan 2: Students will follow the normal transportation routes to their home high schools in the mornings and in the afternoon. There are no additional transportation costs and no changes to the hours for the incubator’s school day required in this model.

i. Program Transportation Needs

Depending upon the size of the school district, and the number of students included in the program, there are a number of options for program transportation.

Option 1 – Dedicated School Buses (Eminence Independent School District Model): The model employed by the Eminence Independent School District is ideal for a Project SCALE-UP design program with cohort sizes of up to 90 students. In this model, two (2) school buses equipped with A/C and WiFi capability are dedicated to transport program students to all activities during the school day; the buses are used in normal district transportation be- fore school and after school. This concept provides flexibility in transporting program students to field work activities, on-campus college courses, and student mentoring activities, with WiFi access for coursework and research during transportation and on-site. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the vision of the leaders in this district; the simplicity and versatility of their program is exemplary.

Option 2 – Using School Vans (Bullitt County Model): The model employed by Bullitt County’s Advanced Math and Science Program is ideal for cohort sizes of 24 or less students. School vans, in this case 8 passenger vans, where used to transport students to research sites, other schools for mentoring, and to local museums/college campuses for presentations. Use of vans requires that one or all of the instructor’s undergoes driver certification every two (2) years, and there is competition for the use of the van with fall/winter/spring sports and other school groups. If all 24 students where to attend an offsite program or event, then a school bus would be required.

ii. Other Considerations

School programs, student testing and extracurricular activities: It is necessary to plan to transport students to their home schools for events such as concerts, pep rallies, and state exams. This may be as simple as transporting the students one-way, either to home school from the program site or from the home school to the program site. School buses will be required for this transportation.

Sports/Band: Students who participate in sports and/or band require special consideration. It is extremely important that these students do not feel like they must decide between participation in the program vs. participation in sports or band. Although, these students may find as they continue in the program that academic success may be inversely proportional to participation in extracurricular activities. Participation in marching band will require some creativity in scheduling, however since most high achieving students participate in band, I would address that reality early.

Curriculum

Online Curriculum: My teaching experience in the disciplines on math and science have left one indelible impression, printed curriculum is the weakest link in our system of education. From that point in time which it is printed and then distributed to the classrooms, it is out of date. Our foundation of knowledge changes too rapidly during the three to five year textbook selection cycle for the curriculum to ever be relevant. Online curriculum, with yearly cycles of content review is the best option we have at this point.

I readily admit I am not an expert in textbook funding, so I apologize for any wrong assumptions in this treatise. However, I am expert at the scientific analysis of issues and implementation of solutions, so it is from this perspective that I present the following for your consideration:

Research into textbook adoption for the students in Kentucky, yielded the following information: The budget, according to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), for FY2015 textbooks is $21,700,00.00; the number of high school students in the public schools in KY is approximately 400,000 – this number works well in this incubator model. This yields approximately $54.25 per student for FY2015 available to purchase curriculum. Based on my experience and relationships with the online curriculum vendors (Apex Learning, Edgenuity primarily) at a volume of 400,000 licenses the $54.25 per license is very reasonable. I feel very comfortable that a contract could be negotiated without issue. Please keep in mind that online curriculum would be for ALL disciplines – not just math and science.

Flexibility for course selection is a topic that requires a mention in this discussion. I personally found that an online offering of languages (Spanish, German, French, etc.) offered without dedicated instructors to be difficult for students to master. A district may consider offering the language component to the college/university partner to facilitate; also increasing the number of languages available as well.

An additional positive for the implementation of online curriculum, an A.P. certified teacher may not be required to teach their A.P. level courses. This is very beneficial, especially during the program design stage, when addressing the needs of Gifted and Talented students.

A final point for consideration is this: as school districts invest in technology for student use (iPads, laptops, and such) is the use of online curriculum not the next logical step in the evolution of our classrooms?

Project SCALE-UP: Project SCALE-UP [1, 2], initially introduced by Dr. Robert J. Beichner (North Carolina State University) as “Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs” and now renamed as “Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs”[1, 2], is the foundational model for this incubator program. Utilizing a cafeteria-style classroom, round tables seating anywhere from 6-9 students, up to 10 tables per classroom, upwards of 90 students can be accommodated at one time. Project SCALE-UP introduces the use of tangibles, ponderables, and concept inventories in the classroom along with large classrooms (in square footage) that accommodate lab activities and classroom activities in the same physical space. Combined with the aforementioned POD teaching concept, a unique synthesis in hands-on learning plus online curriculum and facilitation by the teachers can occur, and be very successful. And, may be easily adapted to fit the facility, even within an existing space at a high school.

“Flipped Classrooms”: Isn’t this just a model of a “Flipped Classroom”? The short answer is “no”; an explanation is required however. The “flipped classroom” concept revolves around the implementation and use of online curriculum in a standard classroom, usually with a student population equipped with iPads or laptops. Project SCALE-UP and in-turn this incubator takes the “flipped classroom” to the next level by surrounding the students with purposeful, targeted activities that exponentially increase the rigor and inquiry-based learning opportunities.

Suggested Curriculum Themes: As a vocal critic of too many disciplines (Astronomy, Astrobiology, Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, etc., etc., etc.), I continue to seek thematic units that require students to master the Liberal Arts (Language Arts +Mathematics + Sciences + Social Sciences) to successfully complete the unit. There are three (3) that I have used (I’m sure there are others), that I offer for your consideration: Astronomy (recognized as a super-science), Pond/Stream Water Quality & Biodiversity studies, and Sustainability. These three (3) thematic units may be used individually as the subject for one school year’s study; incorporated into public speaking opportunities, science fair concepts, student fieldwork, and student mentoring activities.

Concept Inventories, Ponderables, and Tangibles: How to implement each in the classroom, I remember their implementation sequence in alphabetical order.

Concept Inventories [3], alphabetically leads the list and should lead-off the school year as a pre-assessment (an inventory) of a student’s prior knowledge of common sense concepts and ideas. For example: why are there four (4) seasons? – draw the relationship between the Earth and Sun to support your answer. It is through the implementation of concept inventories and the data obtained that I chose to redesign my incubator to include 8th grade students. Do not fret, one does not need to reinvent the wheel, there are a multitude of research-based concept inventories that may be accessed on the Internet. Concept inventories are traditionally multiple-choice format.

Ponderables [1, 2], teachers may be familiar with the term bell ringers or openers, however these two “concepts” do not meet the rigor of a “ponderable”. A “ponderable” is a pencil and paper thought exercise for students, no guidance for a solution is given and the rigor of the question is such that student-research is required to complete the activity. The timeframe for a “ponderable” may be 10-15 minutes, it measures a student’s ability to research, conceptual knowledge, creativity, and organizational skills. I’ve had success in the past creating “ponderable” questions by taking “missed” questions from a concept inventory and deleting the multiple-choice answers. “Ponderables” are more subjective than objective measurements of student abilities.

Tangibles [1, 2], consider a “ponderable” that is not a pencil and paper tool but a measurement tool for a student’s hands-on abilities and understanding of concepts. For example: using a single sheet of notebook paper, fashion the tallest, free-standing object possible. “Tangibles” gauge a student’s creativity, and application of concepts to a hands-on activity.

Suggestions – Student Laboratory Activities: Think college-level and career-oriented activities. The implementation of online curriculum in the classroom, specifically the science disciplines, comes complete with a set of “dry lab activities”. These activities are useful for the most part, however given the amount of lab time available, these were the first thing I scrapped. I am a firm believer that for students to be successful in college labs and in careers where lab proficiency is a necessity, you can never start too early. When developing start-up and operating budgets for your program, this is not the area to be conservative or short-sighted. Consider the industries in your area, possible collaborations, college/university special- ties, and latest trends in employment. My suggestion – think biotechnology (electrophoresis/PCR/DNA analysis), think instrumental chemistry (gas chromatography/polarimetry/melting point apparatus), think electronics (circuit boards/programming), and think robotics. Select lab benches and tables that give you the most flexibility and bang-for-your-buck. Consider electricity, gas, and water requirements; safety needs; and ventilation requirements. If you have funds left over, purchase a high quality reflecting telescope, a remote data transmitting weather station for the roof of the school, and lots of plasticware and consumables for the labs. Consider purchasing pre-packaged lab activities to avoid storage of large volumes of solvents and acids/bases, and they have readymade student activity outlines. Do not forget to research activities at NASA to incorporate as lab exercises as well, especially in your Astronomy unit. I am an experimentalist at heart so this is my passion.

Student Fieldwork – Collaborations and Topics: Arguably, students take-in and retain more information and master more skillsets outside the classroom than inside. I find that I can teach more, across all disciplines, in the field – especially “observation”. And, if those skillsets are applied to a curriculum that captures their attention and imagination then it is a no-brainer. I can provide two examples that were a tremendous success for our program in Bullitt County; I am sure that these can be replicated elsewhere.

During year one of our program, we established a collaborative partnership with Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (Dr. Mark Woorms, Claude Stephens, and Andrew Berry ) in Clermont, KY. The students in our program performed biodiversity studies, GPS mapping, and water monitoring studies (pH, temperature, conductivity, BOD, fecal coliforms, flow rate analysis) on a multitude of streams and ponds throughout the forest. Student’s developed databases for the information interfaced with GPS mapping software, and presented their data to parent and professional groups in our area. Students monitored the streams and ponds Fall, Winter, and Spring – it was never too cold or too wet to discourage participation.

During year three of our program, we established a collaborative partnership with the Kentucky Science Center (Andrew Spence) to allow our students to present science topic demonstrations to visitors at the Center. Our first experience with the students was “DNA Day” at the Kentucky Science Center where students from our program facilitated electrophoresis analysis of “pseudo-DNA” for 900 elementary, middle, and high school students. The student attendees inoculated their own gels, followed the migration patterns in the electrophoresis baths, and then made an educated interpretation of the results. Our students enjoyed themselves more than the attendees.

Scheduling

Hybrid school week plus hybrid school year: I am truly an advocate for changing how we look at the school week and the school year; having the tools mentioned in this article just allows for implementation of the changes more efficiently.

Hybrid School Week: Is there an advantage to mirroring a college weekly schedule? A resounding “YES”. Students leave the comfort of their homes and the familiarity they have with high school classes and curriculum to participate in an alien and at times overwhelming environment called college. If students are not prepared, armed with the study and coping skills necessary to succeed – I believe we are setting them up for failure. I encourage you to design your incubator in such a fashion as to gradually push students outside their comfort zone while they still have the support structure around them.

For example: establish class schedules that are Monday-Thursday, Tuesday- Friday with Wednesdays open for labs, fieldwork, and study halls. Assign work on Mondays that is due the following Thursday; Tuesday’s work to be submit- ted the next Friday. And, most importantly keep an updated syllabus for every class online and do NOT accept late work unless due to an excused absence. For labs, prepare a lab exercise manual listing all the labs to be completed that semester requiring completion and preparation of lab reports in the appropriate, documented format. Prepare your lab stations prior to the start of the semester, allow students to organize their time and efforts to complete all labs by the established deadline. Hold the students accountable for the submission of their work on time. You are in the classroom to facilitate their success, not to spoon-feed them knowledge.

Hybrid School Calendar: The advantage to using an online curriculum is the ability to prepare a syllabus that implements year-round school scheduling. An instructor can use the summer months to reinforce student weaknesses: reading and writing techniques, study skills, and the preparation research papers. Instructors may also schedule refresher courses to keep students on top of their games prior to returning in the Fall, especially math skills. I am also an advocate for utilizing discussion boards and cloud technology for students to submit commentaries on books in the reading lists I assign for the summer. This keeps students from writing the dreaded book reports that they procrastinate writing and I wish to avoid grading. The discussion boards’ generate conversations that I can monitor and contribute to in real-time.

Conclusion

This article addresses just the tip of the iceberg when considering the establishment of an “incubator” for a hybrid education program in your district or within a single school. Without a tremendous initial capital outlay and using existing teaching resources, an “incubator” could be established within an existing high school to determine the viability of such a program with your student demographic. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of faculty selection; the teachers must be facilitators of knowledge not merely instructors. Having access to online curriculum does not minimize the role of the teacher in the classroom, it enhances it. And, finally, always remember “transparency” is critical in the success of your program incubator. Your administration, parents, students, and teachers must have input. And by soliciting input you can, in the best of all world, ensure that you have buy-in from all groups. Establishing ownership at all levels of the program contributes to the success.

References

[1] “Beichner, R., Saul, J., Abbott, D., Morse, J., Deardorff, D., Al- lain, R., Bonham, S., Dancy, M., and Risley, J. (2006). Student- Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Pro- grams (SCALE-UP) project. In E. F. Redish and P. J. Cooney (Eds.), PER-Based Reform in University Physics. College Park, MD: American Association of Physics Teachers

[2] “R. Beichner, and J. Saul, Introduction to the SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs) Project. In Invention and Impact: Building Excellence in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education, proceedings of a conference by the Am. Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, April 2004, Washington DC, 2005.

[3] “Development and Validation of Instruments to Measure Learning of Expert-Like Thinking.” W. K. Adams & C. E. Wieman, 2010. International Journal of Science Education, 1-24. iFirst, doi:10.1080/09500693.2010.512369

Kelly Cleavinger, Eruditio-Demutare.com

April 25, 2014

Gender Differences In Learning Style Specific To Science, Technology, Engineering And Math – Stem

There are gender differences in learning styles specific to science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) that teachers of these subjects should keep in mind when developing lesson plans and teaching in the classroom. First, overall, girls have much less experience in the hands-on application of learning principles in lab settings than boys. This could occur in the computer lab, the science lab, or the auto lab – the principle is the same for all of these settings – it requires an overall technology problem-solving schema, accompanied by use and manipulation of tools, and spatial relation skills that very few girls bring with them to the classroom on day one in comparison to boys.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why girls come to the STEM classroom with less of the core skills needed for success in this subject area. Overall, girls and boys play with different kinds of games in early childhood that provide different types of learning experiences. Most girls play games that emphasize relationships (i.e., playing house, playing with dolls) or creativity (i.e., drawing, painting). In contrast, boys play computer and video games or games that emphasize building (i.e., LEGO®), both of which develop problem-solving, spatial-relationship and hands-on skills.

A study of gender differences in spatial relations skills of engineering students in the U.S. and Brazil found that there was a large disparity between the skills of female and male students. These studies attributed female student’s lesser skills set to two statistically significant factors: 1) less experience playing with building toys and 2) having taken less drafting courses prior to the engineering program. Spatial relations skills are critical to engineering. A gender study of computer science majors at Carnegie-Mellon University (one of the preeminent computer science programs in the country) found that, overall, male students come equipped with much better computer skills than female students. This equips male students with a considerable advantage in the classroom and could impact the confidence of female students.

Are these gender differences nature or nurture? There is considerable evidence that they are nurture. Studies show that most leading computer and video games appeal to male interests and have predominantly male characters and themes, thus it is not surprising that girls are much less interested in playing them. A study of computer games by Children Now found that 17% of the games have female characters and of these, 50% are either props, they tend to faint, have high-pitched voices, and are highly sexualized.

There are a number of studies that suggest that when girls and women are provided with the building blocks they need to succeed in STEM they will do as well if not better than their male counterparts. An Introductory Engineering Robotics class found that while males did somewhat better on the pre-test than females, females did as well as the males on the post-test following the class’s completion.

Another critical area of gender difference that teachers of STEM should keep in mind has less to do with actual skills and experience and more to do with perceptions and confidence. For females, confidence is a predictor of success in the STEM classroom. They are much less likely to retain interest if they feel they are incapable of mastering the material. Unfortunately, two factors work against female confidence level: 1) most girls will actually have less experience with STEM course content than their male counterparts and 2) males tend to overplay their accomplishments while females minimize their own. A study done of Carnegie Mellon Computer Science PhD students found that even when male and female students were doing equally well grade wise, female students reported feeling less comfortable. Fifty-three percent of males rated themselves as “highly prepared” in contrast to 0% of females.

It is important to note that many of the learning style differences described above are not strictly gender-based. They are instead based on differences of students with a background in STEM, problem-solving, and hands-on skills learned from childhood play and life experience and those who haven’t had the same type of exposure. A review of the literature on minority students and STEM finds that students of color are less likely to have the STEM background experiences and thus are missing many of the same STEM building blocks as girls and have the same lack of confidence. Many of the STEM curriculum and pedagogy solutions that work for female students will also work for students of color for this reason.

Bridge Classes/Modules to Ensure Core Skills

Teachers will likely see a gap in the core STEM skills of female and minority students for the reasons described above. Below are some solutions applied elsewhere to ensure that girls and women (and students of color) will get the building block STEM skills that many will be missing.

Teachers in the Cisco Academy Gender Initiative study assessed the skill levels of each of their students and then provided them with individualized lesson plans to ensure their success that ran parallel to the class assignments. Other teachers taught key skills not included in the curriculum at the beginning of the course, such as calculating math integers and tool identification and use. Students were provided with additional lab time, staffed by a female teaching assistant, knowing that the female students would disproportionately benefit from additional hands-on experience.

Carnegie-Mellon University came to view their curriculum as a continuum, with students entering at different points based on their background and experience. Carnegie-Mellon’s new frame of a “continuum” is purposefully different than the traditional negative model in which classes start with a high bar that necessitates “remedial” tutoring for students with less experience, stigmatizing them and undermining their confidence. Below is a list of ideas and suggestions that will help ALL students to succeed in the STEM classroom.

1. Building Confidence

How do teachers build confidence in female students who often have less experience than their male counterparts and perceive they are behind even when they are not?

1) Practice-based experience and research has shown that ensuring female students have the opportunity to gain experience with STEM, in a supportive environment, will increase their confidence level.

2) Bringing in female role models that have been successful in the STEM field is another important parallel strategy that should be used to assist your female students in seeing themselves as capable of mastering STEM classes: if she could do it, then I can too!

3) Consistent positive reinforcement by STEM teachers of their female students, with a positive expectation of outcome, will assist them in hanging in there during those difficult beginning weeks when they have not yet developed a technology schema or hands-on proficiency and everything they undertake seems like a huge challenge.

2. Appealing to Female Interests

Many of the typical STEM activities for the classroom appeal to male interests and turn off girls. For example, curriculum in robots often involves monsters that explode or cars that go fast. “Roboeducators” observed that robots involved in performance art or are characterized as animals are more appealing to girls. Engineering activities can be about how a hair dryer works or designing a playground for those with disabilities as well as about building bridges. Teachers should consider using all types of examples when they are teaching and incorporating activities in efforts to appeal female and male interests. Teachers can also direct students to come up with their own projects as a way of ensuring girls can work in an area of significance to them.

Research also shows that there are Mars/Venus differences between the genders and how each engages in technology. Overall, girls and women are excited by how the technology will be used – its application and context. Men will discuss how big the hard drive or engine is, how fast the processor runs, and debate the merits of one motherboard or engine versus another. These are topics that are, overall, of less interest to most females.

The Carnegie-Mellon Study took into account the differences of what engages female students and modified the Computer Science programs’ curriculum so that the context for the program was taught much earlier on in the semester and moved some of the more technical aspects of the curriculum (such as coding) to later in the semester. Authors observed that the female students were much more positive about getting through the tedious coding classes when they understood the purpose of it. Teachers should ensure that the context for the technology they are teaching is addressed early on in the semester by using real world stories and case studies to capture the interest of all of their students.

3. Group Dynamics in the Classroom

Research studies by American Association of University Women and Children Now have found that most females prefer collaboration and not competition in the classroom. Conversely, most males greatly enjoy competition as a method of learning and play. Many hands-on activities in technology classes are set up as competitions. Robotics for example, regularly uses competitiveness as a methodology of teaching. Teachers should
be cognizant of the preference of many girls for collaborative work and should add-in these types of exercises to their classes. Some ways to do this are by having students work in assigned pairs or teams and having a team grade as well as an individual grade. (See Reading 2 on Cooperative Learning.)

Another Mars/Venus dynamic that STEM teachers should be aware of occurs in the lab there male students will usually dominate the equipment and females will take notes or simply watch. Overall, male students have more experience and thus confidence with hands-on lab equipment than their female counterparts. Teachers should create situations to ensure that their female students are spending an equal amount of time in hands-on activities. Some approaches have been: 1) to pair the female students only with each other during labs in the beginning of the class semester so that they get the hands-on time and their confidence increases, putting them in a better position to work effectively with the male students later on, 2) allot a specific time for each student in pair to use the lab equipment and announce when it’s time to switch and monitor this, and 3) provide feedback to male students who are taking over by letting them know that their partner needs to do the activity as well.

4. Moving Female Students from Passive Learners to Proactive Problem Solvers

The main skill in STEM is problem solving in hands-on lab situations. For reasons already discussed regarding a lack of experience, most girls don’t come to STEM classes with these problem-solving skills. Instead, girls often want to be shown how to do things, repeatedly, rather than experimenting in a lab setting to get to the answer. Adding to this issue, many girls fear that they will break the equipment. In contrast, male students will often jump in and manipulate the equipment before being given any instructions by their teacher. Teachers can address this by such activities as: 1) having them take apart old equipment and put it together again, 2) creating “scavenger hunt” exercises that force them to navigate through menus, and 3) emphasizing that they are learning the problem solving process and that this is equally important to learning the content of the lesson and insisting that they figure out hands-on exercises on their own.

Research has also shown that females tend to engage in STEM activities in a rote, smaller picture way while males use higher order thinking skills to understand the bigger picture and the relationship between the parts. Again, moving female students (and the non-techsavvy student in general) to become problem solvers (versus just understanding the content piece of the STEM puzzle) will move them to use higher order thinking skills in STEM.

Finally, many teachers have reported that many female students will often want to understand how everything relates to each other before they move into action in the lab or move through a lesson plan to complete a specific activity. The female students try to avoid making mistakes along the way and will not only want to read the documentation needed for the lesson, they will often want to read the entire manual before taking any action. In contrast, the male student often needs to be convinced to look at the documentation at all. Boys are not as concerned with making a mistake a long the way as long as what they do ultimately works. The disadvantage for female students is that they often are so worried about understanding the whole picture that they don’t move onto the hands-on activity or they don’t do it in a timely fashion, so that they are consistently the last ones in the class to finish. Teachers can assist female (and non-tech-savvy) students to move through class material more quickly by providing instruction on how to quickly scan for only the necessary information needed to complete an assignment.

5. Role Models

Since the numbers of women in STEM are still small, girls have very few opportunities to see female role models solving science, technology, engineering or math problems. Teachers should bring female role models into the classroom as guest speakers or teachers, or visit them on industry tours, to send the message to girls that they can succeed in the STEM classroom and careers.

Bibliography

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Milto, Elissa, Chris Rogers, and Merredith Portsmore. “Gender Differences in Confidence Levels, Group Interactions, and Feelings about Competition in an Introductory Robotics Course”. American Society for Engineering Education page. 8 July 2004: [http://fie.engrng.pitt.edu/fie2002/papers/1597.pdf].

“Fair Play: Violence, Gender and Race in Video Games 2001”. Children Now page. 19 August 2004: [http://www.childrennow.org/media/video-games/2001/].

“Girls and Gaming: Gender and Video Game Marketing, 2000”. Children Now page. 17 June 2004: [http://www.childrennow.org/media/medianow/mnwinter2001.html].

Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age. District of Columbia: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 2000.

Margolis, Jane and Allan Fisher. Unlocking the Computer Clubhouse: Women in Computer. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

Taglia, Dan and Kenneth Berry. “Girls in Robotics”. Online Posting. 16 September 2004: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/roboeducators/.

“Cisco Gender Initiative”. Cisco Learning Institute. 30 July 2004: [http://gender.ciscolearning.org/Strategies/Strategies_by_Type/Index.html].