How Do You Get Middle School Girls Hooked on STEM? Ask TechGirlz

William Fenton, a contributing editor at PCMag, spoke with Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz, and Deborah Bender, an educator at one of the partner schools, to learn more about the initiative and about how girls are taking a hands-on role in STEM education. The full article was originally published by PCMag.

TechGirlz Workshop at AMY NW

Anyone who reads this column understands that I am convinced that improving student engagement relies less upon technological experimentation than decentralizing class authority. Tools are only tools without thoughtful methodology.

The school/student program enlists student-teachers to serve the ends of administrators, teachers, and students. Despite their best intentions, many public schools lack the resources and expertise to support classes outside the standardized testing regimen. But if a school has a computer lab, access to TechGirlz open-source resources, and a Web-design program or even a club, teachers can enlist students to conduct STEM workshops at minimal cost. For their part, teachers can be compensated indirectly (for example, with course release time). Moreover, while those teachers will need to be thoroughly engaged during workshops, they will occupy an advisory rather than teaching role, a welcome reprieve for many overworked public-school teachers.

Perhaps most importantly, these workshops model the role of women in tech. High school girls gain the opportunity—and the confidence boost—to inhabit roles of authority. “My kids love it,” Bender said. “They love being the teachers.”

From those roles, older students expand the realm of possibility for their younger peers. That is, introducing middle school girls to STEM is as important as allowing them to see themselves in that field. If Bender’s class is at all representative, those high school girls can serve as powerful ambassadors for STEM education. Students listen to other students, and if that sociability can be mobilized to encourage more girls to consider tech as a career, I suspect it will be good for women and good for the field.

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