Attracting girls to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics has been a difficult feat for many educators over the years, but three Minot State University alumnae are doing just that, and it’s catching on like wild fire.
“STEM is kind of a buzz word right now,” said Melissa Stanley (’84, ’86), Edison Elementary School teacher. “The ‘talk’ is about science, math and engineering for girls. So it’s traditional male fields that can be explored by girls who believe they can, it’s powerful.”
Stanley and Sue Kjos (’73) and Margaret Spain (’72, ’02), retired elementary teachers, are all part of the Minot State STEM initiative. MSU is working diligently to help the Teacher Education Program and the greater Minot K-12 to engage in, appreciate and understand STEM. They decided to do that by offering STEM to young, impressionable, elementary age girls in the Minot community.
“It was suggested we open an after school STEM program up to eighth and ninth grade girls,” Kjos said. “But we said ‘No, no, no … we need to reach these girls sooner. By eighth and ninth grade, they are so involved in other activities, and we need to get them interested now!'”
Spring 2014, they started the first STEM for girls in Minot, opening it up to the first 15 fourth-through-sixth grade girls to sign up. They crossed their fingers there would be interest, and by the following morning, 30 girls were enrolled. Kjos, Stanley and Spain decided they could not turn any girls away. The next concern was keeping them coming back.
“I was a bit nervous that they would not return after the first session because it was an after school commitment from 3:30 to 5 p.m.,” Spain said. “But they came willingly to five more sessions, and with enthusiasm.”
Not only did the girls come back, but they couldn’t wait to return. It was a new realization for many of the girls.
“Many of the girls said ‘I never knew I was so smart in math and science!’ Perceptions are reality,” said Stanley. “You have to perceive yourself as capable.”
The STEM projects were all hands on and included a design challenge, electricity built with their own circuits and switches, cabbage chemistry, inertia force and one night, at the ‘almost’ sleep over, they worked on a star lab, plotting out coordinate grids with constellations.
“It’s not ‘Cat in the Hat,'” said Kjos. “You have to read it twice. One day, I asked a first grader, ‘What is science?’ That first grader responded ‘It’s what’s going on!’ You have to get in the game.”
“I want them (student teachers) to know that today’s world is so rich with opportunity, and children growing up today are truly globally connected,” Stanley said. “So to deepen knowledge and help children retain content, teachers have to build connections. STEM does that for you, it helps you marry content. So if teachers only have two hours a day in their class, they can work on science, math, writing, recording data and truly integrate content at a level that is authentic. It is purposeful. It is the world.”