Young Girls Are Less Apt To Think That Women Are Really, Really Smart


Researchers are trying to tease apart the reasons why girls are less likely to become scientists and engineers. Marc Romanelli/Getty Images/Blend Images

Girls in the first few years of elementary school are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is “really, really smart,” and less likely to opt into a game described as being for super-smart kids, research finds.

The study, which appears Thursday in Science, comes amid a push to figure out why women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. One line of research involves stereotypes, and how they might influence academic and career choices.

Andrei Cimpian, a professor of psychology at New York University and an author of the study, says his lab’s previous work showed that women were particularly underrepresented in both STEM and humanities fields whose members thought you needed to be brilliant — that is, to have innate talent — to succeed.

“You might think these stereotypes start in college, but we know from a lot of developmental work that children are incredibly attuned to social signals,” Cimpian says. So they decided to look at kids from ages 5 to 7, the period during which stereotypes seem to start to take hold.

Across the various questions, 5-year-old boys said their own gender was smart 71 percent of the time, compared to 69 percent of the time for girls. Among 6-year-olds, the numbers were 65 percent for boys and 48 percent for girls. And among 7-year-olds, it was 68 percent for boys and 54 percent for girls.

“The surprising thing is that already, by age 6, girls and boys are saying different things,” says Sapna Cheryan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington who wasn’t involved with the research. “Before they’ve heard of physics or computer science they are getting these messages.”

Another experiment showed that even as older girls were less likely to associate their own gender with brilliance, they (correctly) assessed that at their age, girls were more likely to get good grades in school.

And another experiment asked 6- and 7-year-olds about the appeal of two similar imaginary games, one intended for “children who are really, really smart,” and one for “children who try really, really hard.” Girls were less interested than boys in the game aimed at smart kids but interest was similar in the game for hard workers.

The research can’t explain how these messages are getting to kids or how they could be changed, says Cimpian. He is planning a long-term study of young children that would measure environmental factors, including media exposure and parental beliefs. That would give a better idea of what factors predict the emergence of stereotypes, and what levers are available to change attitudes.

Research does suggest that role models might “inoculate” women and members of other underrepresented groups. So the movie Hidden Figures, about female African-American mathematicians at NASA during the late 1950s and early 1960s, could inspire girls and teens of color to pursue STEM fields.

But it’s also important to step back and ask what the goal of any intervention should be, says Cheryan.

Girls, after all, were split about evenly in associating brilliance with their gender, she notes. The boys were more likely to make the association with their own gender. So do girls need help in thinking more like the boys, or vice versa? Cimpian says it’s important not to fall into the trap of always assuming it’s the girls who need to change. But he says that girls at this age are usually overwhelmingly positive about their own gender, so any deviation from that baseline may suggest the beginning of negative attitudes.

Another approach is to change the characterization of the academic fields themselves, namely that certain areas require inborn brilliance rather than hard work.

“Stereotypes are all about who has an innate ability,” says Cimpian. If kids were instead exposed to the idea that success comes not because of fixed ability, but because of hard work over time (a so-called “growth mindset,” the idea developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck,) maybe those stereotypes would lose their punch.

Kids might also benefit from being exposed early on to fields like engineering, which aren’t typically studied in high school, to demystify them, says Cheryan.

Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She’s on Twitter: @katherinehobson.


She Is A Woman

By Isabel  (15 year old granddaughter of Newport, Oregon resident and Central Oregon Coast NOW supporters Joseph and Christina).  November, 2016

As I open my laptop, I see my familiar screensaver of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon. Every day I see his foot caught in mid-step, his golden visor, but this time, I can hear his famous words laced with static. I can imagine the American flag finding its place in the gray sand. I can feel my own longing to be in his place, to feel the weightlessness, to take my own first steps on martian soil. The picture reminds me of my goals and aspirations.

There is a question that never fails to embarrass me: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s benign to the adult who asks, something to fill the silence in a conversation with a child. The simplicity of the question requires an equally complicated and loaded answer. It requires a release of deepest hopes and an exposition of passions. My answer isn’t typical.

I want to be an astronaut. Since I was young, my parents remember my youthful eyes always finding their way upwards, my head craning back trying to take it all in. I remember books talking of the ice and rock rings of Saturn and TV shows discussing the immensity of black holes. I remember my raw fascination with everything outside of and far away from our own planet. But there are so many other professions a woman like me could pursue. It could be so much easier. I could be a teacher, a musician, a writer; becoming a scientist is just too hard.

Or at least that’s how it feels. In higher education, in the professional field, in the mind of society, there is an underlying bias against women in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

We are passing by the days of outright derogation and insults, but we tow these shadows of ideas behind us like bricks. The image of the common scientist is someone who is isolated, nerdy, awkward, naturally gifted—and distinctly masculine. This alienating image and its

negative connotations push away anyone who doesn’t fit, women being the largest group affected.

Where do we see this stereotypical scientist? Where we go to for news, entertainment, and an escape: television. Along with other media sources, television is the number one perpetrator of white lab coats and pocket protectors. Shows like “The Big Bang Theory” portray characters like Sheldon and Raj as smart researchers, but with no social skills. Sheldon is childlike in his tendencies and Raj can’t say a single word to a female. On the other hand, Penny, their female neighbor, is without a college degree and works for minimum wage at a restaurant. The show does include a female researcher, but she is portrayed as less feminine and less womanly than Penny. Since television is a pinnacle of American society, these shows are widely known and watched, further extending negative and non-inclusive stereotypes of scientists.

I’ve felt this weighted past and its ripples. I see it every day in my science and math classes; boys outnumber the girls, we learn about the famous men who shaped science, and in the students who lose confidence. As I get older and my classes become harder, my female peers are shier than their male counterparts and are drained of the confidence to participate in class. Often times, boys will get the answer wrong and proceed to give three more incorrect responses. Most girls in my classes are quiet and reserved. Teachers label them as shy and suddenly all hands raised and answered are attached to a boy and no girl gets the chance. People tell me to be confident and bold and fearless, but when I have to act that way everyday, without interruption, I get exhausted. I get discouraged.

Science is famously called a “boy’s club”, and women rarely break into that. Every person desires an environment with people similar to them, those who share the same experiences. And when a girl goes off to college to find her astrophysics class filled with 30 male

students and only a few women, she has a right to be uncomfortable. Sure, “no pain no gain,” but does it have to hurt? Can’t women push themselves mentally, just like every other student, and try for hours on a math problem, without having to worry if they’ll be ignored the next day when they volunteer an answer? Women avoid “STEM” simply because they struggle to find support groups for themselves.

The most important part of gaining an education or pursuing a career is to have someone behind you, supporting you at every success and failure. I can’t count how many times my mother has helped me refocus when I get stressed under piles of homework. Or how many times stress has brought me to tears and she is there for me, simply an ear to listen. She supports me now, while we are close, but when I grow up, and I move away, who will I find? Maybe my roommate in college will be studying education, music, or writing. We could be the greatest of friends, but when I step foot into that 30-to-none astrophysics class, who is there for me?

Critics say that shyness in women is natural, or that we just don’t like science as much as men do. I can tell you, on a thousand accounts, this is wrong. Take it from my younger self or the women that are leading research in fields from biochemistry to theoretical physics; women like science just as much as men. In the campaign for women, ongoing since Eve came second, an image of frailty and ill-judgement has surrounded leading women as they rise to challenge men in their own game. As the Suffragettes fought for the vote, men claimed the female vote would be clouded by emotions and that women would never care enough to be up to date with current politics.  The 19th amendment came and the men were soon proved wrong. Just as we say that racism didn’t pass with the 15th, sexism didn’t with the 19th. Yet, women have continued to be just as capable as the men they work with.

High schools, colleges and scientific organizations around the country are trying to get women to pursue sciences. They see the disparity, and create programs like “Girls Go Tech” and “Chip Camp” aimed to get those of “underrepresented groups” involved in the sciences. These projects are all well-meaning, but the best way to involve women is to change the way we view scientists in American society. Celebrate the women that revolutionized their discipline or industry. Steer away from the scientist stereotypes of antisocial, nerdy men and broaden the public view of what it means to be a scientist and express diversity positively. You can’t change someone’s mental perspective in one day or one seminar, but you can easily shape future generations. Teach and educate our children that women can be scientists and doctors and astronauts just like the men can. The American idea of the scientist is archaic and uninformed; young girls just don’t know that other women are out there, just like them, staring at the stars, wanting so badly to feel their hair float about their head, to bounce from moon rock to moon rock, taking their own first step on unfamiliar soil. America has to take its first steps, but this time on familiar soil, towards progress.

But do I still want to be an astronaut? Have my dreams of space grown up with me as I have? Science is still my passion, I still see the night sky clearer than the sun at noon, but I enter this field with a different perspective than my naive younger self. I know that it won’t be easy. I will be looked at differently than my male counterparts. People will say any scholarships I received or awards or praise I earned will be due, in some part, to my gender. But I come accepting the challenge. I will do what I love for myself. I owe it to the young girl crying with delight when she first saw the moon through her own telescope. I will be proud to know that my successes and failures will be forever preempted with a warning; she is a woman.


Edith Windsor Won Marriage Equality. Now She’s Helping Women Code

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor took on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and won. Now, she’s fronting a campaign to help more queer-identifying women beat the odds and pursue tech careers.

Those familiar with LGBT rights will no doubt recognize Windsor as the lead plaintiff in Windsor v. United States, the Supreme Court case that granted same-gender couples the same federal marriage benefits as heterosexual couples.

Now, Windsor has a new cause.

There’s a severe lack of women in high profile science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, despite the fact that women perform just as well as men and are equally qualified. And with additional factors, like sexual orientation and race, the barriers to breaking into the tech world can be significant.

Windsor partnered with the group Lesbians Who Tech to help change things. Lesbians Who Tech, founded by entrepreneur Leanne Pittsford, brings together queer women and allies in tech to forge a community and build visibility and opportunities for other women.

But what’s the connection with Edith Windsor? Well, Windsor once worked at IBM as a leading software engineer. She’s a self-described “woman who techs.”

Now, with the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship Fund, the partnership hopes to raise $100k through a crowdfunding campaign. The goal is to send 11 to 15 lesbian or queer-identifying women — or more depending on how much they can raise — to the computer coding school or bootcamp of their choice.

Coding training is expensive. It usually costs at least $18K for entry level education. The fund will cover a minimum of 50 percent of each selected person’s initial tuition. In addition to that opportunity, Lesbians Who Tech pledges to offer life-long support through its network of mentors.

The initiative’s aim is to provide lesbian and queer-identifying women with the education they need to access tech and IT jobs. Hopefully, coding projects created by queer women will provide solutions for other overlooked women due to the over-representation of men in the profession.

The scholarship fund will be ongoing so that year after year, more women will be able to received coding training. And, perhaps, one day those same scholarship recipients can contribute to the fund.

In fact, Lesbians Who Tech already sent a handful of lesbian and queer-identifying women to coding school last year.

Here’s a video that discusses the overall aim of this scholarship program:

This fund could be particularly meaningful for queer women of color who — facing multiple barriers relating to their gender, sexuality and race — find they are often locked out of STEM professions.

Vanessa Newman of Lesbians Who Tech told the Huffington Post: “Imagine what apps and software would look like if they were made by women, queer women, women of color. Imagine how integrating that kind of inclusivity into [tech] would create a more inclusive, accessible society and tech industry for all of us. That’s why being able to fund and provide this type of opportunity for queer women to attend coding school is so important, if not vital. We literally have the power to change the face of tech, if we can lift each other up, over the privileges and barriers to entry that come with learning the essential skills.”

Edith Windsor History: Demolishing a Key Part of DOMA at the Supreme Court

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer had a love affair that “just kept on and on.” As all things must, though, there did come an end. In 2009 Spyer died of complications related to a heart problem.

At the time, only a handful of states had recognized marriage equality, but Windsor and Spyer had entered into a domestic partnership in New York in 1993. In 2007 the couple traveled to Canada to enter into a marriage. That marriage was recognized in their state of New York as of 2008.

Even so, after Spyer’s death, Windsor was faced with high estate taxes because federal law treated her as if she was a legal stranger to Spyer. Windsor was prevented from accessing spousal benefits.

Windsor decided to fight that injustice. In 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s Section 3 was unlawful and placed unconstitutional burdens on Windsor, as well as other people in same-gender marriages.

This ruling opened up nearly all the federal benefits and responsibilities relating to marriage for same-gender couples. It also provided the groundwork for the 2015 Obergefell ruling that ultimately legalized marriage equality across the United Sates.

With this latest move, Edith Windsor shows she is as much a leader as ever. Together with Lesbians Who Tech, Windsor strives to help women become the innovation leaders they have dreamed of being.

Photo credit: David Bledsoe.

Read more:

Silicon Valley V.C. Firm Can’t Find Any Women

The problem is you, not him.

Here’s some news for all the many smart, driven, capable young women interested in working in technology: apparently, you don’t exist.

This may be difficult to hear: All of the science classes you took, the coding you learned, the schools you got into, and jobs you applied to? Apparently that’s not enough.

If it were enough, would Sir Michael Moritz be having such a terribly difficult time finding you? The longtime bastion of Silicon Valley, honorary knight, and chairman of venture-capital firm Sequoia Capital said he has been looking, hard, for you, but he can’t just make something out of nothing. He’s a knight, not a bloody magician.

Moritz’s troubles came to light in an interview with Bloomberg’s Emily Chang, who pointed out that Sequoia has no female partners and asked Moritz whether he’s not seeking them out enough.

“Oh, we look very hard. In fact we just hired a young woman from Stanford who’s every bit as good as her peers, and if there are more like her, we’ll hire them. What we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards,” he said.

He went on: “If there are fabulously bright, driven women who are really interested in technology, very hungry to succeed, and can meet our performance standards, we’d hire them all day and night. . . . Our job is to field the very best team.”

There you have it. Silicon Valley’s gender-diversity problem has nothing to do with institutional biases or sexism or culture. It has to do with you, women, and your inability to meet the same standards set by your male peers. That’s why 82 percent of Google’s tech employees, 87 percent of Twitter’s, 84 percent of Facebook’s, and 79 percent of Apple’s tech employees are men. It’s why men can land jobs by sending “bikini shots” from a “nudie calendar” and eventually become executives who brag about this in front of a crowd of industry leaders, but women graduating from top schools with engineering degrees struggle to find female mentors.

The onus is on you to be better, not on people like Mortiz to be better at fielding worthy candidates. After all, he’s a knight.

Update (3:50 P.M. E.T.): In a statement to, Moritz said, “I know there are many remarkable women who would flourish in the venture business. We’re working hard to find them and would be ecstatic if more joined Sequoia or other firms.”

Oregon Coast STEM Hub Outreach & Engagement

Friday, September 25, 2015 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM


Attention science researchers and engineers – Come discover the many local outreach and engagement opportunities available that enable you to share your expertise, enthusiasm and career with students.  Find out what it’s like to be a judge at an engineering competition where students compete with underwater robots or wave energy devices.  Hear about plans for this year’s K-5 science fair and the need for classroom mentors to help Newport students with their investigations.  Imagine how you might share your research with students during a Career Day, day camp or other Sea Grant education program, or how you could present to teachers seeking content to bring back to their students.  Opportunities vary by topic, audience age, dates and time commitments, so come find out what’s coming up this year and what might pique your interest.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math practitioners from everywhere are encouraged to attend, including personnel from HMSC (incl grad students), NOAA MOC-P, DOGAMI, OPRD, BLM, OCAq, local business & industry, post-secondary institutions, etc.

PIZZA provided by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub
How to Plug In

Hatfield Marine Science Center
Library Seminar Room, Guin Library
2030 SE Marine Science Drive
Cait Goodwin
Contact Email:
OregonCoastSTEM at

FREE STEM Camp for Girls in August

Posted by: Cait Goodwin | July 15, 2015

GEMS campers collect data outside

GEMS campers collect data outside

Do you know a middle school girl who lives on the Oregon Coast and likes to create, build, and make discoveries? The Oregon Coast STEM Hub is partnering with the Oregon Coast Aquarium to offer Girls in Engineering and Marine Science (GEMS), a unique Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camp this summer in Newport. This free two-day camp will be led by female faculty and graduate students from Oregon State University and will take place on August 17th and 18th at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, with participants spending the night in the shark tunnels at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Female campers will explore careers in STEM fields through hands-on activities like building wave energy devices and hydrophones, designing and running experiments, and collecting data in the Yaquina Bay Estuary. Participants will develop teamwork, communication, and leadership skills throughout the program and learn from OSU mentors about what it’s like to pursue a degree and career in a marine related field.

GEMS LT1 2015
GEMS Campers test their engineering design
GEMS begins at 9 am on August 17th and ends at 4 pm on August 18th. Only girls who are Oregon Coast residents and are entering 7th and 8th grades are eligible to participate. Meals are included both days.

Space is limited and pre-registration is required. To take advantage of this opportunity, participants must register by August 10th by visiting the Oregon Coast STEM Hub Website at To obtain a paper registration form, please email

Stanford mechanical engineer Sheri Sheppard named U.S. professor of the year

Sheri Sheppard receives a national honor for her innovative approach to teaching undergraduate students in a hands-on, problem-solving way that transforms large classes into small group learning laboratories.

Video by Tom Abate and Vignesh RamachandranStanford mechanical engineering Professor Sheri Sheppard, who has studied how to attract diverse students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, was named 2014 U.S. Professor of the Year for doctoral and research universities by the Carnegie Foundation.

Sheri Sheppard, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, today was named U.S. Professor of the Year for doctoral and research universities.

The U.S. Professors of the Year awards are sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and administered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Created in 1981, the awards are the only nationwide initiatives specifically designed to highlight excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

“We are extremely pleased that Sheri Sheppard has now been recognized nationally for her effort,” said John Etchemendy, Stanford’s provost and the Patrick Suppes Family Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences. “We are very proud that a member of Stanford’s faculty has been named with this distinguished honor.”

Sheppard is scheduled to receive her award today at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., along with three other professors who were similarly honored in their categories: community colleges, baccalaureate colleges and colleges that offer master’s degrees.

John Lippincott, the president of CASE, said the winners challenged students by approaching teaching and learning in new and compelling ways.

“These professors eschew traditional lectures and rote memorization drills and instead favor a more research-focused approach to pedagogy,” Lippincott said.

This year’s winners were chosen from a pool of nearly 400 nominees and were selected by an independent panel of judges based on four criteria: impact on, and involvement with, undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former students.

Sheppard, the Burton J. and Deedee McMurtry University Fellow in Undergraduate Education and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, said she was humbled by the award. She thanked her many collaborators over the years, including those from the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning, for helping her to create a learning-by-doing classroom environment that gives beginning engineers problem-solving experience.

“Today’s modern engineering work, more so than ever, is about being on teams, and so educators more and more are thinking about how to bring those team experiences into the classroom,” Sheppard said in a video highlighting her work.

Harry J. Elam, Stanford’s Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities, led the team of Stanford colleagues who nominated Sheppard. They cited her prior teaching research, including her leadership of a three year-study titled “Educating Engineers,” which was carried out under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Among previous honors, Sheppard received the 2010 Stanford Walter J. Gores Award, the university’s highest honor for excellence in teaching.

Robyn Wright Dunbar, the university’s associate vice provost for undergraduate education and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said the national award will focus attention on Sheppard’s innovations, such as breaking her large introductory mechanical engineering class into pods and training her teaching assistants to help her lead in-class problem-solving exercises.

“She has students building and talking and constructing together from the get-go,” Dunbar said. “They’re developing engineering expertise, not waiting until they know enough stuff, but developing engineering expertise from the beginning.”

Sheppard received her doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1985 and joined the Stanford faculty a year later as an assistant professor, rising to associate professor in 1993 and full professor in 2005.

For more than 20 years Sheppard has studied how to attract and train young engineers. This has involved initiatives sponsored by the National Science Foundation, including the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (2003 to 2009.) More recently she teamed up with Tom Byers, an entrepreneurship professor in the Stanford School of Engineering, to create the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), which began in 2011 and runs through 2016.

Sheppard is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). In 2004 she received the ASEE Chester F. Carlson Award in recognition of distinguished accomplishment in engineering education. She also won the ASEE Wickenden Best Journal of Engineering Education Paper awards in 2005, 2008 and 2011.

“It’s totally amazing to watch the teacher come out of the students you’re working with, and to think that maybe you’ve got some small part in that,” Sheppard said. “I find teaching challenging and very often fun and without a doubt the most wonderful part of my work.”

Anthony S. Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, noted the “extraordinary leadership” of the 2014 award winners.

“Each of our awardees … brings extraordinary leadership not just to their classrooms, but to their departments, colleges and universities, and their respective professional fields,” Bryk said.

Media Contact

Tom Abate, Stanford Engineering: (650) 736-2245,

Without Political Clout Women Lose Ground in High Tech

NOVEMBER 6, 2014, 10:00 AM

There’s no doubt that encouraging girls to take STEM courses is imperative to their higher representation as women in those fields.  But a recent Catalyst study of 6,000 MBA graduates from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia indicates that it will take more to increase the number of women in high tech.  Women are far less likely to start their careers in these jobs and leave them more quickly than men.  Seventy-five percent of women in the study reported feeling like outsiders as compared to 17% of men.

A certain amount of that feeling is to be expected whenever women work their way into predominantly male fields.  The research findings, however, indicate a much larger problem than just being the new kid on the block.  The study subjects also reported a lack of role models and vague criteria for evaluation as main barriers.

Taken together these are largely political obstacles.  Vague and shifting criteria have long been useful ways to keep unwanted employees from thriving in workplace cultures that lack transparency.  Subliminal and overt signs of not being welcome keep the insiders in and the outsiders out, creating feelings of exclusion.  And it’s difficult to find role models when so few women stay in high tech and men are rarely rewarded for serving in that capacity.

Add to this unhealthy combination two additional challenges: (1) as indicated by a 2013 study reported by the Harvard Business Review, women generally show greater disdain than men for workplace politics, and (2) such disdain does not incline them to learn how to counteract and, as necessary, work within cultures common in high tech industries.

It’s imperative that those of us encouraging young women to enter high tech fields also emphasize the need to arm them with a keen understanding of workplace politics – mild to intense – likely to block their way.  For forward thinking companies this is also to their advantage.

It’s one thing to achieve high-level of competence in preparation to enter any field and quite another to function effectively within a dismissive and/or antagonistic culture.

Kathleen also blogs on politics and influence here.

photo:  Sergey Nivens/

Code and Treat 108 188 99 How schools discourage some girls from pursuing STEM.

Code and Treat 108 188 99 How schools discourage some girls from pursuing STEM.

By Kimberly Scott

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. On Thursday, March 27, Future Tense and New America’s Breadwinning and Caregiving Program will host From Nowhere to Nobels: Pathways to Success for Women in STEM in Washington, D.C. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, African-American and Latina women make up only 3 percent and 1 percent respectively of the computing workforce. In 2011, only one Native American woman earned her doctorate in computer science and information systems. These statistics highlight an understudied phenomenon—that our schools continue to justify failure for some groups. In part, this disaster is a result of our society’s preference to oversimplify matters.

As research demonstrates, structural barriers often prevent individuals from historically marginalized groups from achieving their full potential. Schools continue to “code and treat”: African-American girls as hyperagressive and hypersexualized; Latina girls as destined for nothing more than teen pregnancy; and Native American girls as more likely to become alcoholics than anything else. These beliefs help maintain the digital divide.

And I am not referring to whether a student has an iPad. While most school communities have relatively fast Internet service and computers, the poorer, disproportionately black, Hispanic, and Native American educational settings rarely provide the students with technological activities beyond the basics of word processing and PowerPoint. At the same time, more affluent, predominantly white settings offer countless opportunities for students to not only manipulate technology but to create it. When economically disadvantaged schools do offer advanced computer science courses, girls are too often discouraged by their male counterparts and teachers from enrolling in such “difficult” courses, UCLA’s Jane Margolis has demonstrated.

But some girls actively rebel against these low expectations. They understand what the schools expect of them but picture much more from themselves. They even volunteer 200 hours of their free time to engage in a rigorous informal education setting. They are the ones my project-based social justice program—titled CompuGirls—attracts.

Founded at Arizona State University in 2007, we target teenage girls from high-need urban and rural areas. (Disclosure: ASU is a partner with Slate and the New America Foundation in Future Tense.) Now with a sister-site administered from University of Colorado–Denver, we offer multimedia courses, held in community spaces like the Boys and Girls Club during school breaks. The girls are admitted in groups of 10–40, and they navigate three courses in which they create a digital research project around a social or community issue.

Although we may sound like a computer science endeavor, our main focus is self-development. We help girls envision their futures beyond what other social institutions—such as school—may imagine for them. We trust them to shift their identities from those negative images to more empowered shades of their selves. We put into practice this belief and give them access to cutting-edge software and hardware, encouraging them to take on time-consuming projects. For instance, a girl used Scratch to create a game that teaches an indigenous language to young children. One made a documentary explaining childhood obesity in poor communities. I was particularly impressed, and moved, by a museum-like space built in a virtual world that documents the psychosocial effects of child abuse.

Despite our attempts to scale the project, not all girls have access to this or any other empowering experience. Though depressing, it’s understandable: Creating something like this requires money and lots of dedication. But what’s more worrisome is that some participants report that they were discouraged by school officials to join CompuGirls. One student, Maria, told me that she had to take a subversive route to enter the program. “I overhead my guidance counselor talking to another girl about CompuGirls, but when I went to talk with her, she didn’t say anything to me,” Maria said. “It was a teacher who got me in.” Granted, Maria was a well-known truant, but if she’s expressing interest in an activity that might inspire her, why not encourage her?

Being perceived as a “not-learner”—an academic term that assumes some students actively refuse to study—almost kept Maria from a program that ultimately helped her shed the label. Not only did she become a peer leader and graduate high school; she also ultimately got a job managing IT for a local nonprofit.

But CompuGirls and I can’t take full credit for Maria’s success, just as we can’t completely fault teachers or school systems for her peers who failed to graduate.

I served as a fourth-grade instructor for years, and I believe in teachers’ intentions and potential. I also have hope in our educational system. But I, too, believe that children, girls in particular, will rise to the expectations we indicate.

Recently, I was honored as one of 10 White House STEM Access Champion of Change awardees. At this illustrious event, an audience member asked: With all of the attention directed to boys of color, do we run the risk of not addressing girls’ needs? It’s an important question. The truth is that to invest in girls is to invest in boys. Projects like the Girl Effect have illustrated that focusing attention on girls will produce greater yields to the society as a whole than concentrating first on boys.

I agree with this strategy, with a caveat. Our attention needs to begin with us reflecting on our own biases. We need to question why the not-learners receive “intervention” programs. By their very name, “intervention” suggests the need to disrupt an otherwise harmful situation with a more positive experience. The intervention is aimed at moving the not-learners to become learners. But that goal is far too focused on the individual. Rather than measure success by how much the girls change their identities, shouldn’t we consider how far they move their communities? True, one indicator of success is how quickly and effectively a CompuGirl can debug her Scratch game so players can enjoy themselves. If she wants to become a technologist, she has to be able to fix her creations.

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Let’s get the caveat out of the way. I recognize that what I am about to say can be labelled as concern trolling, but I don’t think that is what I am up to. More…

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But I’m more interested in seeing if a girl can debug her game and research how multiple myeloma affects the young in her community at a higher rate than surrounding neighborhoods. By doing both, she can build a game that motivates policymakers to reconsider the proximity of treatment centers for cancer survivors. Then she has become a “technosocial change agent.” Her accomplishments can inspire community action.

We shouldn’t assume that some girls can be taught to code, create simulations, and develop complex cities in virtual spaces. They all can, and they can do it while becoming change agents at the same time. Along the way, they may become more academically successful. If they do, it’s great. But even if they don’t, it certainly will alter how they see themselves—and that will affect the roles they will play in their communities for the rest of their lives. Shouldn’t that be a part of education?

Kimberly Scott is an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation and the executive director of CompuGirls.

Full STEAM Ahead: Injecting Art and Creativity into STEM

Full STEAM Ahead: Injecting Art and Creativity into STEM

By Amy Koester
“I get it! The Titanic sank because too much water got inside! A boat can only hold so much water!” That was the moment it all clicked—the “eureka” moment, if you will—at my library’s “Sink or Float: Titanic Edition” school-age STEAM program. The children in attendance now had the concept knowledge to allow them to build and test their own boats, and all it took was a tub of water, an ice cube tray, and a goal toward exploring science concepts in a hands-on way. They were prepared to move to the work tables piled with straws, yarn, twist ties, Popsicle sticks, and clay to try their hands at building unsinkable ships. Ta da! An engaging and sneakily educational STEAM program.
For More On STEAM

Amy Koester’s Favorite STEAM Programs
SLJ‘s STEAM Pinterest board
What’s “STEAM?” It’s an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, arts, and math,” part of a new trend toward injecting creativity into STEM learning. STEM proficiency among students has been a goal among educators for the better part of a decade, propelled by a series of reports in the mid-’80s showing that many American children weren’t mastering these areas. The reports spurred federal funding and initiatives in many school districts to bolster STEM learning.
While government agencies and schools were busy promoting STEM, some educators believed that something was missing. For American children to grow up to innovate in STEM fields, they needed not only academic proficiency, but a healthy dose of creativity and ingenuity as well. Thus STEAM was born.
STEAM has great potential for school and public libraries because it taps into children’s natural interests while also facilitating informal learning. In a school library setting, that translates to enriching activities that might otherwise become too rigidly restrained to a single discipline. A child might love learning about controlled explosions in chemistry class. But she has to wait, perhaps as long as a few years, until the appropriate unit in social studies to learn about bombs in wartime—and then loop back to her technical understanding of explosive materials. Not so with STEAM in which the science, design, and history of an invention are all combined—just as they are in actuality. Suddenly those explosions, as cool as they are on a purely scientific level, aren’t so one-dimensional.
In a public library, STEAM means creating opportunities for children to explore and experiment. A program on a well-loved chapter book is great, and topics such as railroads and bridges are reliably popular among young patrons. But what about a program demonstrating that bridges aren’t just the roadway extensions we take for granted? What if that program covered different types of bridges, along with video footage of a bridge collapsing, and a hands-on opportunity for kids to build bridges from dried pasta and then test their strength? Suddenly kids are deeply engaged—and curious. They genuinely don’t know what will happen to the materials in front of them, but they want to find out. They leave the program with more knowledge and interest than they might have had if they’d just read about bridges. That’s the power of STEAM: To bring together all the facets of the things we find interesting in the world in a way that’s tactile and packs educational punch.
Top 10 Go-to
Resources for STEAM Programming

Titles by Gail Gibbons, including The Vegetables We Eat (Holiday House, 2007), a great summertime read for a gardening or plant science program. Gibbons’s books are wonderful for sharing as much detail in a program as you want, and her illustrations are rich with information, too.
I like Steve Jenkins’s books, especially The Beetle Book (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) and Bones (Scholastic, 2010), to show a variety of images on a STEAM topic. Jenkins’s illustrations are beautiful and whimsical, and they pair well with photographic nonfiction books.
I enjoy sharing titles by Anne Rockwell with school-age children, especially What’s So Bad About Gasoline? Fossil Fuels and What They Do (Collins, 2009). Rockwell does a good job of engaging her audience with the STEAM concepts they experience in their own lives.
I rely on Janice VanCleave’s “Play & Find Out” series and “Easy Activities” series (Wiley) to find simple, engaging experiments for my preschool and school-age STEAM programs. VanCleave has kid-friendly ideas on pretty much every science topic.
Fizz, Bubble & Flash! (2003) and other titles from the “Williamson Kids Can!” and “Williamson Little Hands” series are great resources for hands-on activities across the STEAM spectrum. I especially look to these resources for ideas that connect to the arts part of STEAM.

Full of STEAM program ideas for kids of all ages, this wiki features contributions from students in an Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) online course as well as librarians eager to share program plans.
Library Makers
This blog from the Madison (WI) Public Library staff shares a variety of program examples. My favorites are in the WonderWorks category.
Mixing in Math
A great resource for fun ways to explore and enjoy math in everyday library activities. Check out their monthly calendars, which are ready to print.
Steve Spangler Science
This site offers myriad experiments in the Lab section. Experiments are grouped by broad science concepts, from “All About Air” to “Weather.”
Here you’ll find hundreds of experiment and activity how-tos, with feedback from kids and teachers who’ve tried them.
STEAM programming can be as simple or complex, low-tech or high-tech, or cheap or lavishly funded as you like. Maybe you want to test the STEAM waters by setting out science exploration stations. Think of an ant farm, a tray of rocks with a magnifying glass, models of rockets or molecules, or a seed whose growth can be tracked on subsequent library visits. Perhaps you could start by modifying an existing library program. Take preschool storytime, for example. To add STEAM to this activity, you can a) talk about the natural world and scientific principles found in fiction picture books; b) share some engaging nonfiction picture books, such as Anne Rockwell’s Becoming Butterflies (Walker, 2002); and/or c) change that cut-and-paste ladybug craft time to an activity that explores real insects, alive or preserved, using a magnifying glass. All three options will help preschoolers develop basic knowledge about how the world works. That’s science literacy, which children will need to succeed in STEM subjects once they get to school.
STEAM programming can also mean creating new programs, be they stand-alone or in a series. At my branch library, I offer preschool and school-age science programs on alternating months.
For preschool science, I use a read-talk-explore format to focus on a single scientific concept. In a program on the human body, for example, we might read Tedd Arnold’s Parts (Dial, 1997) and then talk about how different body parts work together to do their specific tasks. Then we would allow some time to explore hands-on body science, using kids themselves as the scientific subjects, to reinforce what we’ve learned. Activities include listening to a heartbeat at rest, and again after 10 jumping jacks; seeing how lungs work by breathing into and out of a paper bag; and simulating digestion by smashing different foods in a plastic-bag “stomach,” noting the state of the contents before and after.
I’ve replicated this read-talk-explore format for several preschool science programs on topics such as color, gravity, and the weather. I see engaged learning in these programs, with active involvement by caregivers.
For school-age programs, I take a slightly more streamlined learn-build-test approach. I advertise the topic ahead of time—airplane science, for instance—and then start the program with a brief discussion of the relevant science. In the case of airplanes, I’ll project some slides on the forces acting on planes, Bernoulli’s principle, and aerodynamics. Then, after a few minutes of questions and further concept exploration, the children head to tables with materials to build things and put their science knowledge to work.
In one program, kids build paper airplanes; in another, they construct parachutes. They enjoy getting directly involved in the engineering process and applying the understanding they’ve just learned. I end every school-age science program with time to test our creations—just as every good scientist would do. Children watch with rapt attention as their peers test their inventions and prove the scientific concepts introduced at the start of the program.
I also offer STEAM programs with an extra focus on that “A” for “arts.” In these programs, I don’t advertise the ‘science’ component. Unfortunately, girls sometimes shy away from anything overtly connected to science, so I use these alternate “science”-free event titles to attract kids with varying interests.
Call it false advertising, but I always work in the science concepts once kids are engaged in creating stuff. In LEGO Club, we might talk about what makes a structure solid. In a program where kids use recyclables to craft aliens, we might discuss how a creature’s body reflects the environment where it lives. These are all very real, important scientific concepts that connect directly to the types of hands-on, crafting events that libraries have been offering for years. Do you craft? Then your programs already have STEAM potential!
It’s a common librarians’ take on the maker movement: That making is really “crafting” by a shinier name and that’s really nothing new to youth services. This thinking relates to STEAM, too—because “making” is also just a fancy term for “engineering.” It’s not the term that’s important, but the practice of hands-on creation. “Making” means using your brain and tools to figure out how to create things. That’s very STEAM.
Discussion of STEAM library programming on the national level got rolling at the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, with several programs and panels devoted to the subject. Since then, libraries of all shapes, sizes, and service populations have created STEAM programs to serve their communities.
On the preschool front, Rachel Fryd, youth services coordinator, and Joel Nichols, branch manager and children’s librarian, at the Free Library of Philadelphia, have transformed traditional storytimes with STEAM. They share books, songs, fingerplays, and activities that correspond with themes like balance, observing the Moon, and plant science. Lisa Kropp, youth services coordinator at the Suffolk (NY) Cooperative Library System, is in the process of putting together “Science Buddy” kits that will enable adults or teen volunteers to lead science activities with preschool-age children and their families, including families from low-income backgrounds who qualify for the federal Head Start program. Partnering to bring STEAM learning to these children pairs wonderfully with Head Start’s mission to promote school readiness.
For an exemplary school-age STEAM example, look to the Danger Club at the Eastern Lancaster County (PA) Library, led by youth services librarian Heather Smith. Her Danger Club tagline: “Science can be dangerous; or at least really, really messy!” What kid wouldn’t love that? The Danger Club has explored STEAM concepts by making bubbles, slime, water rockets, and batteries that gave a small but invigorating shock. Talk about sparking a child’s interest.
The Chicago Public Library offers a wonderful example of STEAM programming with teens as well as partnering to fund programs. Two branches of CPL house themed science kits that contain activities and challenges designed by Northwestern University’s FUSE project (, focusing on hands-on projects involving technology and design. CPL purchased supplies for the kits, and FUSE reps trained CPL staff to use the contents with teens. These patrons drop in at the libraries and use the kits to explore topics like robotics, biotechnology, and app design. Partnering with an organization like FUSE has helped CPL make STEAM learning available to teens using their existing library staff, who need not be subject experts.
First and foremost, don’t feel like you need tons of activities to illustrate a single concept. For preschoolers, three or four hands-on experiments are about all they can handle. For school-age kids and teens, one activity is usually enough. Kids can spend a long time engaged in a hands-on constructive task, and they need time to explore and think to really get into a creative, innovative mindset.
To cement the learning of STEAM concepts, have library materials on the day’s topic ready for checkout. Printing out ideas for take-home activities or charts for tracking at-home experiments are great options, too.
“Make-it, take-it” stations allow kids to take home the supplies for a simple self-contained experiment. Many families don’t realize that they can do STEAM activities at home, but they’re excited to do so when they have some guidance.
Finally, recognize that you don’t need a science background in order to do STEAM programming. My secondary education didn’t predispose me to engage with STEAM in my library. Like many a librarian, I was an English major in college. But I remember being curious about the world as a kid, as is any child. For me, that meant joining the Science Olympiad team, an extracurricular science competition club, and even attending a physics camp one summer.
The way the world works was fascinating to me, and I recognize that holds true for many of the kids I serve, too. I offer STEAM programs not because I’m any sort of subject area expert—I look to great resources for my ideas and planning (see STEAM resources sidebar). I offer STEAM programs because children of all ages are curious about how things work, and at the library, I can help their curiosity transform into keen interest and, potentially, lifelong engagement and the innovation that keeps us all moving forward.
Amy Koester is the children’s librarian at the Corporate Parkway Branch of the St. Charles (MO) City-County Library District. Her blog: ‘The Show Me Librarian’