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Encouraging girls to study STEM subjects

IB Diploma Programme (DP) students at Atlanta International School (AIS) initiated a CAS project, “Girls in STEM”, that encourages girls to study STEM subjects in high school and college to pursue STEM careers.

Members of the 'Girls in STEM project'.
Members of the “Girls in STEM” project.

Atlanta International School (AIS) initiated the CAS project, “Girls in STEM (GIS)”, back in 2016. It is a student-led support and mentoring group that encourages girls to study STEM subjects in high school and college to pursue STEM careers. The project is divided into two programmes:

Guest speaker programme.
Outreach programme.

The first brings in female role models working in STEM fields to talk to students about their careers, while the second consists of GIS offering STEM workshops to primary school students, to encourage girls to maintain their interests in STEM and for students to see that STEM is for both genders. The workshops are held once a month and are two-hours-long, and they consist of a combination of discussion and STEM activities.

Julia Paton-Smith is in grade 11 and she co-leads the “GIS” project.  As part of her creativity, activity and service (CAS) project, she initiated an outreach programme to mentor refugee and first-generation immigrant girls in upper elementary and middle school, the age when most girls start to lose confidence and interest in STEM.

“I wanted to create an environment where students would feel supported in their abilities and make connections to what they are learning in school,” says Julia.

To familiarize students with each other, each workshop starts with ice breakers, resulting in interesting cultural exchanges. Then, the discussion transitions to the main topics such as why female representation is important in STEM and some of the challenges’ girls face inside and outside of school regarding STEM.

Next, interactive STEM activities such as building circuits or constructing weight-supporting towers take place. After completing all activities, the group analyzes the science behind each activity. This is a crucial step, as it connects the positive experience of the activity to the learning and STEM behind it. Studies have shown that having positive experiences with STEM from a young age helps students maintain an interest in STEM, which is a huge reason behind these activities.

STEM is very important to the society we live in and will only become increasingly so in the future, as STEM jobs are the highest growing and highest paying sector in the job market. Even though women make up 47% of the workforce, only a fraction (25%) of girls and women are likely to pursue STEM degrees that lead to new STEM jobs. Girls often face implicit and explicit biases from family, peers and the media that discourages them from taking part in STEM activities.

A big part of inspiring younger generations is providing positive role models, where kids see themselves represented by people of a similar demographic. If girls see themselves represented, they will see that STEM is something they can do too. Furthermore, STEM is a way to further close the wage gap between men and women. When asked what their favorite thing was from the workshop, one student said:

“My favorite thing was everything, and nothing could be better because it was already better.”

AIS students who take part in leading these STEM workshops have the chance to exhibit a wide range of IB learner profile traits such as compassion, open-mindedness to new experiences and global outreach. Additionally, performing STEM activities in and of themselves requires students to think, communicate and take risks. A lot of learning in the IB is also based on reflections and learning from mistakes. Reflecting is a huge learning opportunity because many girls feel the pressure to be perfect all the time. It is important to learn that making mistakes is part of life and that taking risks enhances learning.

So far, these workshops have proved to be a very positive experience for both the students and the student-teachers leading the activities. Hopefully, by sharing information on GIS and the outreach program, other girls will be inspired to make similar efforts in their local communities.

GIS members participating in a workshop.

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