It’s no secret that there is a dearth of females in math and science, but it shouldn’t be the status quo. Many girls might already be interested in math and science, but need some encouragement to get more involved in these subjects. Below is a look at the reasons behind the lack of female representation in these fields, and three ways educators can keep girls interested in math and science.

Why Aren’t They There?

Math and science are certainly not for males only, yet a glimpse around university math and science departments would make one think otherwise. Male scientists outnumber females two to one, even in fictitious situations like the TV show, The Big Bang Theory.

Girls are interested in math and science, but they’re diverted before declaring their college major. An American Association of University Women study of 1,226 female science professionals found that girls actually demonstrate interest in science at a young age, but are discouraged due to antagonistic, critical behavior in many math and science departments. Nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated experiencing such behavior.

Is It Really a Gender Problem?

Maybe the problem isn’t gender-based but in the way children’s skills are fostered. Math Professor Mary Beth Ruskai argues that both boys and girls need more interactions with scientists to become interested in science. Schools should also identify and encourage students’ talents, regardless of academic field. Educational reform efforts often yield increased retention rates for both males and females, simultaneously combatting two problems.

Here are a few ways that teachers and parents can keep that spark of interest in science going for young girls and encourage more women scientist in the future:

1. Create Projects Based on Interest

Instead of letting girls’ math and science interests lie dormant or go ignored, we should present them with science projects based on their interest. Sometimes all it takes is one successful project to give a girl the encouragement she needs to find her passion in math or science. Even some toys for young children can aid in kindling an interest in science, such as the Goldieblox toy line that is meant to inspire future female engineers.

2. Introduce Female Math and Science Role Models

The U.S. Department of Commerce says that women hold only 25 percent of STEM occupations, and those with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degree typically work in education or healthcare. While the numbers seem bleak, it presents an opportunity for change. Females working in or holding degrees in math or science should serve as role models for girls seeking a career in their field. Introducing a positive role model of the same gender to young girls can keep them interested and have a lifelong impact on their career paths.

3. Emphasize the Positives

We should encourage girls to defy the stereotypes that math and science are only for boys. Like any subject, if girls are struggling in math and science, we need to help them work through their struggles. This can mean playing an active role in helping them better understand these subjects. True, the subjects can be difficult, but imagine the rewards that girls will reap because of their perseverance. Confidence plays a large role in a girl’s success in science and math, and it’s important to help her maintain a high level of confidence.

In Short

Science and math are not gender-specific fields, yet girls seem to tune out natural tendencies toward these subjects. We can change their attitudes toward math and science by offering them encouragement, role models, and opportunities to learn, tapping into their innate scientific and mathematic skills. For math and project ideas that you can introduce to the female students in your life, visit K12.com.


Image via Flickr by IntelFreePress

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