How You Can Inspire Your Daughter In STEM

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Do you remember back in high school when we all knew that even if the kids that were really into science, math, or computers weren't cool they were going to have good careers in their futures? We were right about these promising fields, and they are still promising for the future. Today these are called STEM fields or subjects. Careers in these fields are expected to far outpace growth in other job fields.  

I also remember that most of the top students in the challenging math and science classes were boys. My high school offered only a single one-period class of computer science. Every student in that class was male. That was typical then.

That was a little over twenty years ago.

Since then women have been catching up and even surpassing their male counterparts in earning bachelor's degrees - but there is still a noticeable gap in many STEM fields. Some studies suggest that the gap in computer science has even grown larger in recent decades.

Studies have shown that girls have the same ability for STEM subject as boys do. So, STEM jobs have great pay and great benefits and are expected to be growth fields with opportunity. Aren't these the qualities of careers we hope our daughters have someday? Even if our daughters choose to go into a career field that isn't directly related to STEM topics, the skills learned in STEM school classes will be useful in almost any field she encounters.

What do you do to inspire and encourage your daughter in STEM subjects?

Talk To Her About School, Especially Her Math and Science Classes.

When you take the time to talk to your daughter about school, you are showing by your actions that school is important. Giving her a chance to talk about what she is doing in school will lead her to think about what she did and what she will be doing in school in the near future. These conversations will also give you the chance to provide advice or insight that might be helpful.

Make Sure Your Daughter's Teachers and Counselors Know About Her STEM Interests

If your daughter says she wants to pursue a STEM career, or one of her favorite subjects is a STEM subject, make sure that the educators working with her know about it. Teachers can further encourage  interested students. Teachers can also use their student's interest as a spark for related topics that will be covered in school.

Teachers and counselors are often knowledgeable about different programs and contests available to school-age children that are meant to enhance and encourage a child's interest. Think science camps, robotics clubs, engineering competitions. If your daughter's teacher knows yoru daughter is likely to be interested, the teacher can tell her about these opportunities.

Encourage Her To Speak Up In Class

Asking questions, answering questions, paraphrasing what was heard, talking with group partners, sharing ideas or suggestions are all great ways that students can participate in classroom learning. STEM is best taught with a keen eye towards innovation, design and action. This requires communication between student and teacher during class time.

Yet this can be a challenge for girls. The 1992 report "How Schools Shortchange Girls" by the American Association of University Women brought this phenomena into the awareness of educators everywhere. The report highlighted several ways that girls did not interact with teachers as often as boys. In particular, one study by Myra and David Sadker noted that primary school boys were eight times as likely to call out an answer than girls.

That reported rippled through teacher training programs and professional development leading to strategies and awareness of the issue. If girls are not interacting, they may not be getting the attention they need to really get the most out of their classes. Research studies since that time show that although the gender gap in classroom interactions is smaller than in the early 1990's, it still exists.

Encourage your daughter to join in these classroom conversations. Find out from her how the teacher gets feedback during class time and what your daughter does to participate. If the teacher asks for a show of hands, does your daughter feel comfortable raising her hand to share with the class? If so, praise her for her confidence. If not, try talking with her to find out why and suggest o her that her input will help her and her peers learn together.

Point Out Role Models, Especially If They Are Women

Having a model to learn from and emulate can help smooth the way for any goal your daughter has. I know there have been several times in my life where it just never occurred to me I could do something until I met or heard of someone else who had succeeded. STEM careers and subjects are challenging, and knowing that others have succeeded can give rise to the idea that success is attainable.

The more we feel we have in common with that role model the easier it is to see ourselves experiencing the same kind of success they have. Role models can be found everywhere. There are plenty of books and movies about scientists and innovators who had to overcome significant odds. Do you have any friend or relatives that work in STEM fields? Your daughter could find out from this person what kind of education they received, and what they love about their work today.

Praise Persistence - Not Giving Up Is Valuable In STEM Fields

Persistence is a key trait needed to succeed in STEM. New developments and designs require hundreds of tweaks and trials before they are complete. Learning what doesn't work so that what does work can be found is a long and arduous process.

It isn't just the nature of design and innovation that requires persistence in STEM, though. Learning the necessary math skills also takes a great deal of time and practice. If your daughter wants to give up on her math homework, help her develop persistence by letting her know that learning math does take and work, but she can do it and then she will gain a sense of pride from sticking with it to learn the math. You can also point out how many things in life require regular dedicated practice, like playing an instrument or being a top athlete. If you can think of times before when she was persistent and succeed, remind her of those successes and tell her she ca do this as well.

The great thing about this is that persistence isn't just great for STEM - it's useful in all of life. Developing this will to succeed will become a positive character trait for future success, no matter what career she pursues.

Encourage Her To join Girl Science Clubs

Programs and activities to encourage girls in STEM are hot right now. All over the country universities are holding special day camps and field trips, schools are hosting extracurricular STEM clubs meant to be girl accessible (and enjoyable), corporations are sponsoring behind-the-scenes laboratory tours - even the Girl Scouts offer STEM badges and robotics competitions.

Having girl-focused opportunities to learn and explore STEM can go a long way to inspiring girls. These programs give girls the space to engage in STEM while being around other girls. Rather than being the odd person out, your daughter can be surrounded by other girls that she can relate to. Girl focused programs are also designed with the interest and learning styles of girls in mind.

These programs can also supply the important role model that was mentioned before. Women who work in STEM are often selected as guest speakers or teachers in these programs.

Encourage Hands-on Experimentation and Questioning at Home and Everywhere You Go

STEM is all about asking questions and trying new things. Cultivate this attitude! Wonder out loud to your daughter about how your cell phone works. Notice the weather and talk about the forces in the environment that brought about today's conditions. If you have broken devices, take them apart to look at what is inside them.

Praise and encourage your daughter when she digs into finding an answer. Experimentation and exploration combined with persistence or necessary for sTEM success, and will help your daughter succeed anywhere in life.


How schools shortchange girls: the AAUW report: a study of major findings on girls and education. New York: Marlowe & Co., 1995. Print.

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