How Guiding can be an incubator for girls exploring STEM

Scientific innovation – it’s  what propels the world forward and leads to the discoveries that make our lives healthier and better. On International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), ideas for how to balance the gender equation in the scientific world will be under the microscope. Here’s how one Guider and engineer inspires girls to be innovators and STEM explorers.

The fact is, companies, post-secondary educational institutions and nonprofits have researched gender inequity within STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields for years. A quick Google search with the keywords “women” and “STEM” will return plenty of research studies, statistical reports and opinion-pieces. Amidst all of this information, how can we – as advocates for women and girls – help drive the change required to achieve gender equity in STEM fields? Based on my experience, I propose implementing a tried-and-true problem-solving process: ideate, implement, and iterate, with girls in the lead every step of the way.

First, ideate with a girl-driven approach mindset. Identify the challenges faced by women in STEM fields and the skills required to overcome them, then brainstorm ways to learn those skills as a unit. Interview a local science teacher, professor, or parent at your unit meeting, or consult some current literature – I recommend the Harvard Business Review for Pathfinders and Rangers, and National Geographic for Sparks, Brownies and Guides. Plan activities, projects and field trips that build girls’ confidence, teamwork and problem-solving skills. Ideating as a unit requires proactivity, goal setting and prioritizing, and sets the stage for effective unit meetings.

Second, implement with a curious mindset. As a Guider, I have observed that girls engage the most with STEM activities that challenge their assumptions about the world. For example, I once gave a group of girls a temperature gun and told them I discovered that my cat’s paws are colder than its belly. Ten minutes later, the Guides were still completely immersed in measuring the surfaces temperatures around them. Another time, I demonstrated a typical Newtonian mechanics problem by dropping balls with different masses on top of each other. I will never forget the girls’ expressions when they discovered that a basketball can transfer enough momentum to a tennis ball to send it rocketing across the room. These moments of excitement and discovery are powerful, and learning to harness them equips girls with an invaluable motivational tool. Implementing as a unit requires synergy and teaches girls valuable communication and collaboration skills.

Third, iterate with a continuous improvement mindset. Debrief after your unit meeting and determine what worked, what didn’t, and how you can improve. Were you prepared for your activities? Did your experiments surprise you? Did you prefer building circuits or writing code? Did working together speed up your progress or cause conflict? Did your unit accomplish its goals? Iterating is analogous to analyzing your unexpected experimental results and developing a new procedure, or observing your malfunctioning prototype and taking it back to the shop for an adjustment. Iterating as a unit requires focus and creativity, and kick-starts the entire process all over again.

As sisters in Guiding we have the ability to help drive the change required to achieve equity in STEM fields. We are also mentors and friends, with countless opportunities to offer encouragement and support to girls who absolutely need it. When a girl tell you she’s “bad” at math, tell her that math can be tricky but it gets easier with practice. When a girl becomes frustrated or begins to lose focus during a problem solving activity, find a way to keep her engaged. Research has told us about the challenges women and girls face in the pursuit of STEM careers. Let Guiding be an environment where girls learn to overcome them.

Erica Glatt (BESc, MESc, EIT) is an Improvement Engineer with Dow Chemical Canada ULC and a Sparks unit Guider in Parkland Area, AB.

Girl Guides of Canada’s new Girls First program is exploding with opportunities for girls to innovate, experiment, design and create, including our Engineering Instant Meetings.

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