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Women in STEM: Why we MUST talk about them in our classes!

It is officially March and that means it's Women's History month! As a woman and a science teacher I am very passionate about informing my students about the important role that women have played and continue to play in a variety of STEM fields. At my current school in Morocco I regularly have students asking me why I have so many posters of women on my walls and so few of men. I simply ask them to turn away from the posters and to name some scientists, they quickly begin to name famous scientists like Einstein, Watson & Crick, Mendeleev, Rutherford, Newton, Galileo & interestingly they very rarely realize that they are naming almost exclusively male scientists. Sometimes Marie Curie comes up, or Rosalind Franklin (since I teach about her in my Genetics units). I then explain that most students know of many male scientists, but very few female scientists, so their stories need to be told.

Adding some posters in your classroom or in the hallway are a great way to help students have an opportunity to learn about female scientists, engineers & mathematicians around the world. While I incorporate these scientists (along with their male colleagues) into my lessons they don't always fit in with the topics we are studying or in the limited amount of instructional time I have. The Women in STEM poster you can see here on the left includes the names, fields and images of nine different women who are or were working in STEM fields and can easily be printed at school in legal or A3 size or printed in a larger size at a print shop or business supply store.


If you have a little more room, the posters you see below are much more comprehensive, they are part of my Women in STEM Fields Bulletin Board set which I really like because it includes information about each woman, her nationality, lifetime, field(s), education & a bit of her story. This is helpful when you want students to have a chance to learn a little more about these amazing women. I have also taken care to ensure that there are women from a variety of fields, nationalities and races. I often see students reading one or more of these posters as they wait for class to begin or if they finish a task before their classmates. It makes me so happy to see my students find things in common with these scientists and maybe begin to imagine themselves in a different path than they had previously considered.

Research has shown that role models are particularly important for girls and women in STEM, this Ted X talk by Rohini Godbole is a personal and informative talk that helps to clarify why women are so often under-represented in STEM fields. Many of my female students over the years thought that a career in STEM was not a real option for them, when they think of scientists, engineers and mathematicians they think of men, and most often, white men. Part of the reason for this is because so many women's accomplishments are ascribed to men - think of Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell & Chien-Shiung Wu many others, this is such a common part of the reality of women in STEM fields that is has bee given a name - The Matilda Effect (to learn more check out this article).


While more girls are pursuing Science in university, there are less of them who stay in the field to conduct research or actively work in the field, many stop studying Science after completing an undergraduate degree. When I think of the women I studied Science with I can think of only one who is actively completing research while the dozens of others have gone into education (such as myself), medicine or working as a laboratory technician. The challenges of balancing a family and a career in Science is substantial and hinders the careers of women substantially more than men. It is my hope that by exposing both my male and female students to these amazing female scientists that they will all develop more empathy for each other and that my female students will feel freer to pursue their passions in STEM fields. There are several factors which seem to cause this discrepancy, including the confidence gap, a lack of role models, gender stereotypes and male-dominated cultures, check out this excellent resource to learn more.


These gaps are the main reason why when I was helping to decorate the new Grade 9 science classroom in my school I decided that some posters about Women in Science are a must. Since I already had the above posters in my room and the students will be in my class next year I used these lovely free posters put together by Nitty Gritty Science and added my own title banner I made on Canva ( you can download two possible banners below). While these posters don't include any information about the women they are very colourful and very diverse. A great start and an easy way to begin making students aware that women are and can be scientists, engineers and mathematicians.


Women in STEM Banners
.zip
Download ZIP • 21.00MB

I hope that this post gives you a push to make sure you bring these amazing women to the attention of your students, male and female alike. Beginning with some classroom decor is a great place to start, but then try to incorporate the stories of various women into your lessons. I spend time talking about Rosalind Franklin whenever I talk about the structure of DNA as well as Rachel Carson in Ecology and Marie Curie while teaching Chemistry. I would like to incorporate more women, and in particular, women of colour into my lesson plans over the next few years.


Thanks for reading teachers, travelers and curious souls of all kinds!



The Roaming Scientist









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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm the kind of teacher who is always trying something new, new labs, new Apps, new scaffolds and even new countries to live and teach in. I'm looking forward to share what I learn with you all through my weekly blog posts. 

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