STEM for All: Increasing Participation in Underrepresented Populations

by Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom

Students who move into STEM careers will have a strong voice in shaping the future of our country in addition to having access to well-paying jobs in high-demand fields. We want all students to have these opportunities, right?* But there's a lack of women and minorities in the STEM pipeline. As an educator, you have the power to change this.

Elementary and middle school teachers play a key role in making STEM accessible to underrepresented groups, while high school teachers play a crucial role in maintaining student engagement as they prepare for college and careers.

A Leaky Pipeline

The overall number of students taking the AP Computer Science test is rising, but the number of girls and minorities is not. In 2013, there were eight states in which no Hispanic students took AP Comp Science; there were 11 states in which no black students took the course. The number of girls taking high school physics equals that of boys, but the number of girls taking AP physics falls short. We’ve got to get these numbers up to improve the STEM pipeline.

Environment Plays a Role

Can something as simple a replacing a “geeky” Star Trek poster with a nature scene make a difference in attracting girls to a computer science classroom? The answer is yes, apparently. Take a look at your classroom with a critical eye to determine what unintended messages you might be sharing via your classroom decor. As reality check, invite colleagues or students, especially those whose backgrounds differ from yours, to share their perspectives.

You Can’t be What you Can’t See

Science evangelist, author and woman of color, Ainissa Ramirez, credits a TV show with kickstarting her dream of a career in science. Seeing a young black woman on screen using science to solve problems inspired her to believe she could do that, too. With the resources of the Internet at your fingertips, it’s easier than ever to find diverse STEM role models. Make sure that science is more than discoveries by white men.

Active Learning

Discovery Education Network member, David Fisher of *** school, is a fan of kinesthetic activities, especially those that allow learning through play. This, according to the Institute for Broadening Participation, is an important factor in increasing long-term  STEM participation. David loves to get his students up and about in the name of science. “Hot Wheels cars and track are great for this as it's an easy way to teach potential and kinetic energy.  Playing Jenga not only teaches the kids about gravity, but it reinforces balanced and unbalanced forces,” he advises.

Check Your Own Attitudes

We all like to think that we’re open-minded, that we come into the classroom expecting great things from all of our students, giving each child an equal chance at success. But although we control our conscious beliefs and actions, we also tend to be influenced by deeply ingrained subconscious beliefs. This is called implicit bias. Are you certain that you (and therefore your students) are not impacted by this? Take a test or two at Project Implicit and see what you learn.

Tweet, Tweet

Once again I’m turning to Twitter as a go-to resource to build knowledge and professional connections. Get started with these hashtags:

This this blog post by DN Lee, which will direct you toward even more Twitter resources.


*I plan to address more traditional issues of inclusion, those related to physical and learning differences in a future post. Please email me if you have tips to share!