What pedagogical strategies work to bring girls and young women into areas in which they remain underrepresented and become increasingly underrepresented through the education and workplace pipeline – computer science, engineering, physical sciences and mathematics?


Suzanne E. Franks
Director, Women in Engineering and Science Program, Kansas State University

Kim Ann Zajack
Director of Pre-College Programs, The Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering, Rutgers University


All participants were science educators. Although most were K-12 teachers, the group also included science museum education staff, directors of programs for girls and young women in science, and university/college faculty and staff.


Participants identified six key issues affecting girls’ interest and persistence in science, math and technology:

  • Many girls still do not understand they need a career;
  • Many careers in science, engineering, technology, and related fields have a negative — or nonexistent — public image, especially among girls;
  • We still do not attract enough capable college students into the professions of mathematics and science teaching;
  • Teachers in these areas require different teacher training that emphasizes inquiry-based approaches and prepares them for real-life classrooms;
  • Teachers in many schools lack adequate materials and resources for inquiry-based science and mathematics education;
  • Teachers need summer programs in which they actually do science or can learn new pedagogical techniques — and funding to enable them to participate in these programs.

A wide-ranging discussion led to a series of recommendations to engage girls, and to support and improve science teaching for girls and for all children.

Engaging Girls

  1. We will be most successful if we get girls excited about science early. This effort has to extend beyond PBS and public-access broadcasting in order to have a significant effect, and should use formats to which kids respond, such as the "fun" strategies of teaching employed by Sesame Street. Kids crave repetition, and video formats allow us to have a huge impact on their interests if used imaginatively.

  2. Kids — and teachers — need to learn that science is less about answers than about asking good questions and figuring out ways to answer those questions. This is an especially important lesson for girls, many of whom find it difficult to keep asking questions until they obtain the answer they need. Science and math teacher education programs need to make this approach part of their own pedagogy as well as part of their curriculum.

  3. K-12 curriculum design should draw on the expertise of a wide range of professionals — child development experts, scientists/mathematicians, education faculty and even theater professionals — to create classes that are exciting, age-appropriate and challenging.

  4. All kids need to hear from teachers that it is OK for science and math to be hard: "It’s hard, but it’s also fun."

  5. Inquiry-based learning should be the model for science education from the earliest grades. Teacher-education programs should use and teach this pedagogy, and standards-based curricula should be designed that can measure such learning.

  6. At all educational levels, all children profit from bringing practicing scientists, engineers and high-technology professionals into the classroom to talk about their work. Such visits are most effective if they are part of a regular program of visits rather than isolated events.

  7. Participants in this workshop concurred with national reports that identify middle school as a point when many girls turn away from math, science and technology. To counter that trend they called for:

    • Outreach to counter social pressures driving girls from sciences, such as women scientist mentors & classroom speakers;

    • More "smart camps" and in-school science enrichment for middle-school girls (most are targeted at high-school-age students, when many girls have already dropped out);

    • Integration of math and science across the curriculum;

    • More opportunities to do experiments, especially on topics girls care about.

  8. Schools need to do a better job of teaching girls that they will need a career and the capacity to support themselves and possibly a family. This requires teaching girls basic economics, as well as creating a sense of opportunity and excitement about a wider array of career paths. Children, parents and guidance counselors are not aware of the wide array of career paths in science and technology fields. Schools need to institute professional development programs for counselors and information programs for parents and children from middle school onward.

  9. Even where they exist, science and technology mentoring programs do not have a reliable positive impact on the girls they serve. Participants called for more effective dissemination of successful models and for new strategies to increase the interest of older women in becoming mentors.

Enriching Teachers and Teaching

  1. Teacher education programs must teach and model inquiry-based learning that teaches students to ask good questions and search for good answers.

  2. New teachers need time to learn to teach, and experienced staff need to be renewed in their teaching. Mentoring and ongoing professional-development opportunities to learn new content and pedagogy in math and science are crucial to success and persistence in the profession.

  3. Many teachers need more good curricular materials. Science museums can play an important role in developing and disseminating programs to public libraries as well as schools.

  4. Schools should support more team-teaching in science. Different members of a team can appeal to their students varied learning styles by teaching the same concept in different ways. Teams can more easily divide classes into smaller sections to facilitate cooperative group learning.

  5. Summer enhancement programs for math and science teachers pose opportunities and challenges.

    • Many teachers struggle to obtain funding to attend enrichment programs or create enrichment programs for students. Foundations and corporations can do more to support effective enrichment programs, and university partners can assist K-12 teachers with workshops on grant-writing.

    • Teachers respond positively to programs in which they do experiments that they can then include in their own classes. Familiarity helps create the confidence to introduce new materials and approaches into their own courses and creates the experience to offer effective guidance to their own students.

    • Science and engineering companies should create more opportunities for teachers to work in laboratories during the summer. Many teachers have no personal experience in research, testing or production. Participants felt these corporate internships would complement university-based workshops.

  6. Participants recommended development of a national database or clearinghouse of professional-development workshops and summer opportunities.

  7. Schools need to schedule time for teachers to engage in unstructured professional exchange; teachers in turn must make a commitment to take part in these discussions.

  8. Colleges and universities generally look at K-12/university partnerships as a one-way relationship. Teachers’ expertise in teaching can benefit their university partners.
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