Learning Strategies to Encourage Girls to Embrace STEM
New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), with funding from National Science Foundation (NSF), will be countering the myth that boys are naturally better than girls in science and math.
NJIT will lead a new project - Leadership and iSTEAM for Females in Elementary School (LiFE) - to find effective ways to showcase science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as a collaborative, innovative, people-rich space, to increase the number of girls interested in STEM. NJIT is conducting the project with the Hillside, Morris Plains and Weehawken school districts in New Jersey.
LiFE employs integrated science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (iSTEAM) learning strategies that encourage girls to apply the tools of various disciplines in investigating and solving real-world problems. Additionally, it involves activities that leverage the expertise of the project’s corporate and government partners. The project builds on the successful Girls Rock Science Club in Hillside that introduces third- and fourth-grade girls to hands-on iSTEAM exploration activities. LiFE will replicate this model in Morris Plains and Weehawken and also develop clubs for fifth- and sixth-grade girls that involve enriched content and long-term independent projects.
Eventually, a LiFE tiered peer network will link female students from elementary school through college with female STEM professionals to help sustain a sense of community toward retaining women in STEM. The project also will develop a cost-effective template that can be replicated across the U.S. to foster broad participation by women in STEM careers.
LiFE is led by NJIT’s Bruce Bukiet, associate professor of mathematical sciences; James Lipuma, senior university lecturer in humanities and director of NJIT’s Collaborative for Leadership Education and Assessment Research.; and Nancy Steffen-Fluhr, associate professor of humanities and director of the university’s Murray Center for Women in Technology. The LiFE team is headed at Hillside by Superintendent Antoine Gayles, at Morris Plains by Superintendent Mark Maire, and at Weehawken by Director of Academic Affairs Francesca Amato.
Bukiet explains, “Proving the benefits of LiFE with our K-12 partners will provide the foundation for expanding LiFE nationally to bring problem-based iSTEAM concepts to girls of all academic levels in their elementary school years, while having a community focus with participant developed projects in a non-competitive environment and including academic, corporate and government partners to foster broader participation by women in STEM careers.”
LiFE is one of 27 projects awarded funding by NSF through its INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) program, designed to enhance U.S. leadership in STEM discovery and innovation. INCLUDES is committed to diversity and inclusion and creates paths to STEM for underrepresented populations. The program is among NSF’s “10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments,” research agendas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering.