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Harvard Brief Explores After-School STEM for Girls

Informal, out-of-school science and math programs offer great ways to engage girls in the subjects, but they need to be carefully planned and executed to make sure reluctant students want to sign up for them and stick with them, a new Research Update from the Harvard Family Research Project states.

It seems STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—initiatives are all the talk in education and policy circles these days. The trick is how to engage girls not typically drawn to such subjects, the Harvard researchers write. As you might expect, STEM initiatives tend to attract those students already interested in science and math.

So it's important to take an "inclusive approach to ensure that girls feel welcomed and comfortable with the materials." the researchers say. "Both boys and girls may see STEM activities as overly technical and intimidating, but girls often do not receive the same encouragement that boys do to get involved (or may need some extra encouragement)."

The update says the keys to a strong STEM program for girls include:

  • Establishing measurable goals for STEM objectives; this could include using "outcome-based guidelines" and baseline data to set targets;
  • Building personal connections with the girls in a program to keep them interested and involved; and
  • Tailoring STEM projects to specific groups of students; for instance, in planning, consider carefully girls' lives, ages, and abilities.

The research brief also offers quick-hit profiles of six programs that link girls and STEM. They provide a quick and informative guide to what different groups are doing.

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