From preschool through college and even in the workplace, STEM education benefits from diversity and inclusion. Gender-neutral education programs offer an excellent way to get learners from many different backgrounds together to discover the thrill of discovery and innovation that comes from careers in STEM fields. With all of the seemingly conflicting information out there, it’s easy to make a few simple mistakes that can hinder otherwise exceptional gender-neutral STEM programs.
Organizing Play Spaces
In preschools around the world, teachers set up one area for playing with blocks or toy trucks and another for playing with dolls. Kids gravitate towards the types of toys they have at home, and this can result in unintentional role reinforcement at a tender age.
Lumping toys together and leading play times using a variety of toys without organized zones helps prevent this behavior. Gender-neutral toys should include tech gadgets like kid-friendly tablets with software that stresses learning and inclusiveness. Boys and girls love robots, after all.
As children progress to elementary and middle schools, teachers may find themselves boggling at why some students “waste time” by stacking books and performing repetitive or apparently disruptive behaviors. Imaginative students may also seem to be daydreaming about any number of things, all of which can detract from lesson plans. Correctly addressing these issues when they arise in students of any gender and funneling such actions into learning experiences can have a transformative effect.
Taking the time to address these actions as signs of interest and using them as an opportunity to explain basic STEM principles instead of viewing them as “problem behaviors” is the first step towards encouraging inquisitiveness. Even if a child seeks disruption for its own sake, the methods that the child employs give a great insight as to how to steer that energy toward creative ends. Daydreamers idolizing superheroes may learn that fighting cyberattacks in the real world can be as involving as punching bad guys on the big screen, for example.
Teaching to the Test
STEM teachers with students of all ages can easily fall into the trap of teaching directly to the next exam. While this method works for memorizing historical events and timelines, STEM studies are often considered the new kid on the block and can be more innovative than classic history texts. Many modern tracking tools, including institutionalized statewide exams, encourage this type of learning even if it may be detrimental to understanding the key concepts behind the science being taught.
Teaching concepts instead of vocabulary goes a long way towards addressing this issue. Students of all genders need to understand why a particular type of math or science is applicable to the real world. Engineering and technology fields benefit greatly from a solid grounding in math and science, and exposing students to how these fields grow from basic classroom concepts can help spur interest in STEM careers. At the collegiate level, this method can stoke interest in what may otherwise be dry and formulaic lecture experiences.
Any gender-neutral STEM program should strive for inclusiveness. Focusing on teaching girls coding and boys how to use medical equipment for nursing education simply because this structure defies societal norms can negatively affect that sense of inclusion and diversity. Segregating learners teaches students that there’s still a fundamental difference between the genders at the heart of the problem and can actually undo some of the benefits of gender neutrality.
While many STEM programs have enrollment incentives for female students due to the lack of overall gender diversity, these should be kept separate from gender-neutral classrooms or learning spaces. Segregated learning can reinforce the idea that STEM careers are more difficult for some students, giving the impression that they require extra attention or care to be able to function at the appropriate level. This is usually not an intentional act on the part of the educators, but the situation that emerges easily in segregated environments. When in doubt, remember that inclusiveness and diversity is paramount for gender-neutral STEM education.
Forgetting to Have Fun
Whether students are in preschool learning to build with dolls driving toy trucks across building-block highways or in the workspace powering the next green revolution, forgetting to have fun detracts from learning. A lack of fun at work leads to employees failing to remember the reasons they got into STEM careers in the first place.
Technology continues to change education, and students and workers who remain engaged are likely to do better and be more productive. Harness the excitement and innovation that are intrinsic parts of sciences and engineering studies. Especially when lessons or daily work becomes bogged down in numbers and exercises, having fun is often a key to success in STEM fields.
This article was written by Devin Morrisey, who connected with CoderZ via Twitter. Devin writes from his garage in Daly City, CA, stopping periodically to build robot cars with his nephew. He is a stark advocate for technological integration in educational policy.
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