Normally my blog contribution for the TeachNet community is based on a new or interesting ICT resource that I think should be highlighted as a possible teaching resource to help further integrate ICT into the daily teaching and learning in our classrooms. This time however I’m going off-script to look at some recent research, carried out by Microsoft, on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) gender issues. Microsoft commissioned this research to look at why girls appear to loose interest in STEM despite all of the priorities that have been placed on STEM in schools in the US in recent years. STEM graphic Microsoft also wanted to find out if anything could be done to turn the situation around. The research found that “girls and young women were still less likely to pursue education and careers in science, technology and maths (STEM) compared to their male counterparts.” You can read all about this exciting research project in greater detail here; the following five bullet points are the main research findings, taken directly from the research paper.

research_paper_cover1:  Girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. They need more exposure to STEM jobs, female role models, and career awareness and planning.

2: Girls don’t initially see the potential for careers in STEM to be creative or have a positive impact on the world. But even a little exposure to real-world applications of STEM knowledge dramatically changes their outlook.

3: Girls who participate in STEM clubs and activities outside of school are more likely to say they will pursue STEM subjects later in their education. The kinds of experiments and experiences girls are exposed to in these activities can provide insights for how to enhance STEM instruction in the classroom.

4: Encouragement from teachers and parents makes a big difference in girls’ interest in STEM—especially when it comes from both teachers and parents.

5: Educators can foster a “growth mindset” among their female students by tapping into their willingness to work hard for results.

These five insights or findings have been summarised in an infographic that should be shared with as many teachers and educators as possible! 
Microsoft then went on to produce a simple guide for teachers and parents and educational stakeholders. This guide shows how even small shifts in policies or approaches can make a difference. Several concrete actions are outlined for teachers so that they can help to close the gender gap in STEM. The guide also lists programmes and tools that teachers can use as additional resources in their classrooms.
I think the research is particularly relevant to us here in Ireland as it provides Irish educational policy makers with critical data that should be reviewed so that current and future STEM initiatives in Ireland can take this research into account when making decisions about expanding STEM activities in Irish schools. I noticed that while the STEM Education policy statement 2017 – 2026 from the Department of Education and Skills recognises the need to increase the participation of females in STEM education and careers by 40% as an outcome for one of the four founding pillars of the statement, there is no mention of the use of “female role models” as a means to help achieve this!
If we want to ensure that STEM initiatives in Ireland are successful at Post Primary level then we need to be open to learning from this Microsoft research in this instance and adapting the insights to meet the needs of all participants!


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