My Love/Hate Relationship with STEM Education for Girls

STEM Girls


As a girl who grew up loving science and math, but eventually moved away from it, I have a love/hate relationship with the recent STEM and coding movements. I know math and science are important, especially for girls. Then again, the only female math or science teacher I had was my 10th grade Biology teacher, Mrs. Head. Even then, it wasn’t like it was so special because she was my aunt’s sister so I already knew her.

I always look back and say that I probably had one of the best STEM experiences in high school because almost all my classes were filled with other girls. If my memory serves me correctly, I’d say that the top 25 of my class (of which I was one!), half were girls. This is out of over 400 kids. Back then – 30 years ago, Class of ’87!! – it was unheard of for so many girls to be at the top of the class.

I’d say, for the most part, my teachers didn’t have issues with ‘the girls’. There was one (male) science teacher who would often put us in boy vs. girl teams, but I never saw it as a gender issue. For the most part the girls were equal to the boys, and we usually won, so I saw it as a way to tap down the testosterone surge of awkward high school boys. Maybe I was naive. And, if so, I’ll just keep it that way. Sure, that teacher had favorites – all of them boys. While  he made it very clear to me that he was never going to accept that I was as smart as the smartest boys, he had to pretend when every time he asked me to prove my worth I did. As a matter of fact, he didn’t want me to go to a state science competition because I was the only girl selected and we’d need a female chaperone. I was required to ask the female teachers if one would like to be my chaperone. Luckily I wasn’t asked to pay more to have my own hotel room, but he make it known that ‘his boys’ had to share a room while I got my own. At the end of the day, I won! None of ‘his boys’ won their divisions. I did. Not only did I win my division, my project and presentation were selected as one of the top three overall. Boom! Oh, and he had to present my award at the school assembly even though he didn’t want to.

I’ve looked back on that one incident and how, despite my hundreds of hours of work between 11pm and 3am having my mom drive me to the university two days a week for several months so I could work with a professor and his team of Ph.D. and Masters students, for me it was never trying to prove I was good enough. At that time, I didn’t see that he didn’t want any girls on his science teams and did everything he could to keep us off. Part of that was teen cockiness. But part of it was because my mom always told me that I if I did the work she’s make sure I had the same opportunities.

Then I went away to college. And the teen cockiness was knocked down quickly. I selected my program – constructional engineering – because it’s something I was really interested in learning and doing. I was one of about 6 girls in the program, and that included the graduate students and office staff. That should give you an idea of where I found myself. The professors were openly sexist. The teaching assistants had no time for me. In my advance physics class I was one of a few girls. I was the only girl in my physics lab. I was one of 3 girls in my Advanced Differential Calculus class, but the only freshman. I looked around, day after day, and saw few women. The women I saw were so busy keeping their place at the table there was no time left to make sure I even had a place in the room.

Now, as a mom to a girl who excels in math and science in a world where STEM education for girls has become a focus of education I’m not the advocate I once thought I would be. Yes, BabyGirl has been involved in robotics and science camps, often being the only girl. Yes, BabyGirl spent a summer in the NASAGirls program and has attended girl-only summer STEM camp at the local universities.

The push for STEM-everything, which is really coding-focused for the elementary and middle school ages, doesn’t seem genuine when it comes to girls, though. Sure, there are amazing organizations like Girls Who Code, but their local programs are connected to a school and if you don’t happen to go to that school you’re on your own. And what if you don’t want to code?

What if you don’t want to code? Can you tell me what’s out there for girls who don’t want to code but love science and technology and engineering and math? I can tell you. Not much. With all the great programs that use STEM as their basis, there is such a predominance of coding that kids are learning that STEM is coding. Girls are being taught that STEM equals coding.

So when they don’t like coding, they don’t like STEM. If they’re not good at coding they start to think they’re not good at STEM. They’re not good at science or math. And that’s where I have a problem.

I was fortunate. Up until about 10 years ago, education was about the various types of science – biology, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, and so many others – and math. It wasn’t about coding. I hated coding. It’s one of the reason I left my engineering program in college. It’s not that I wasn’t good at it, it’s that I hated staring at a screen with a bunch of nonsense to try and make some stupid design or have a series of number print out on a card. Science and math weren’t fun any more.

And that’s where I am today as a mom, trying to convince my daughter that math and science are fun. That they are used in real life. That there’s more to STEM than coding.

I believe that coding has its place in STEM. But it would be great if schools and the STEM movement would move beyond that focus and create programs that actually try to keep girls interested in science and math beyond elementary school. I say this because I know that there are awesome science and math programs and careers out there for girls, but they have to stay interested long enough to be able to see them as viable college and career options.

What are your thoughts about STEM education for girls? Has your experience been different?


7 Tips for Making Middle School Pick Up Less Stressful for Everyone

School Pick Up Line Tips

For most parents, when we talk about ‘back to school’ there’s a bit of melancholy in our voice. Having the kids home for the summer means lazy days, less rush, fun vacations, staycations. Lots of summer stuff making memories. But after all the “I’m bored!”, “There’s nothing to do.”, and “I’m hungry!” wails, there’s a small part of you that can’t wait for school to start. While I love having BabyGirl home for the summer, I know she misses her friends. And being an only child means hanging out with adults, which isn’t always that fun. So while there’s an excitement in the air about back to school, as a parent there’s one thing I dread – school pick-up.

I share after-school pick-up duties with a friend, which is great. It gives both of us a chance to have an extra hour to cross things off our daily to-do list. We did the carpool program for two years in elementary school and it went rather well. There were a few parents who didn’t think the rules applied to them, but for the most part, elementary school pickup was met with order. For those times someone would double-park, cross between cars, or leave their car unattended the school was quick to give notice and nip the issue in the bud. And while I was at just one of the several elementary schools that feed in to the current middle school BabyGirl attends, I thought the other elementary school pick-up lines were the same. But I was wrong.

Based on the first two weeks of school, either some of the parents completely forgot how after-school pick-up works or they think the rules don’t apply to them. Seriously, how hard is it to follow a few basic rules? What happened to all those things we taught (er, teach?) our kids? Like, wait your turn, be patient, be courteous, watch what you’re doing …

Adults behind the wheel of a car are much more dangerous than the little mistakes our kids make when they don’t follow basic rules of courtesy. So I thought now is the perfect time for a few reminders to those who will be picking up kids after school. And while this is more specifically written for middle school (junior high?) pick up since this is what I’m dealing with now, it’s likely just as applicable for high school and elementary pick up.

7 Tips for Making Middle School Pick Up Less Stressful for Everyone

  1. If you don’t want to wait in a long line, get there early. Just like going to the movies, if you get there late you don’t get to cut the line just because you’re in a hurry. We all have places to go. And cutting in line isn’t just being a jerk, it’s dangerous because cars leaving the line aren’t expecting you to be cutting.
  2. Keep moving up as the line moves. This is how lines work. When people in front of you move, you move too. Think about how it works when you’re in line at the store. It’s the same thing. This is not the time to camp out in one spot like you’re at a General Admission concert. The kids will find the car. They’re in middle school. Finding the right car at the end of the day isn’t all that hard for the average middle schooler.
  3. Don’t be a double parking douche. Your precious unique flower child can wait just like everyone else. Having kids walk between moving cars is dangerous. You should know this.
  4. If your child is slow or needs help getting in the vehicle, find a parking space. It’s safer for you, your child, and the rest of us.
  5. Don’t get out of your car. I repeat, do not get out of your car. The pick up line is not the place for this. It slows down the line, and puts you and others at risk.
  6. Kids should only get in the vehicle on the curb side. This should go without saying. If your child has to get in the car on the street side, find another place to safely pick up your child. Think about how many times you have to tell your child to pay attention. Add moving cars and it’s a recipe for disaster.
  7. Drive slowly around the school. Those School Zone signs are not a suggestion. And just because your school may have them only in certain areas, slow down all around the school. Kids who walk home aren’t often paying attention. Parents getting out of the pickup line may have their view blocked by some ignoramus double parked behind them. There are so many things going on around schools, please, just slow down.

Parents have enough stress, school pick-up shouldn’t add to it. No one wants to deal with a child getting hurt because adults weren’t paying attention or were in a rush. And in the grand scheme of the day, a few minutes of patience and courtesy can go a long way. Getting into an accident, hitting a child with your car, or being stopped by the police because you were in a hurry at school pick-up will delay you much longer.

Be safe out there! Our kids learn from us. We need to be good role models. Because they’ll be driving soon and we can’t expect them to follow the rules and be safe if you’re not willing to do the same.

Edited: Shortly after this post was created my friend Jenny from Jenny on the Spot created this PSA. Enjoy!

Stay safe and have a great school year!


Prom: Teenage Rite of Passage

Prom photo

It’s that time of year when hormone-raging teens get dressed up in their finest and engage in that ritual known as Prom (or in some parts of the country I’m told it’s the Senior Dance). An evening of dresses the girls will look back upon and wonder what they were thinking picking that hideous thing, and suits or tuxedos guys will don in hopes of looking spiffy enough to, well, hit a home run. Or at least say they did.

I only know about prom from hearsay. My school only had a Senior Prom and if you weren’t a senior you needed to go with one. My junior year I was not dating a senior so going to prom wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t really my scene anyway because my junior year I coordinated the Military Ball. Yep, I was in ROTC. That’s for another day though.

When my senior year rolled around I knew I’d go to the Military Ball, which in the grand scheme of life wasn’t as much of the disaster that it appeared to have been that night and in the months and years following. I went to the Military Ball with my best guy friend because the guy I was dating was 8 years older than me. Gasp!. Again, fodder for another post.

So Senior Prom rolls around and I’m not going to be going with my best guy friend. Besides the disaster of the Military Ball there’s the fact that he has a girlfriend and she hates me. Oh, to reminisce about high school romance drama. That’s why Glee is so much fun! Art imitating life!

But like most things these days, if it doesn’t have extreme attached to it then it’s just plain ol’ 1980s lameness. Back in my day (as if I’m 85 years old!), if you spent more than $200 for your dress that was extreme! Yes, girls got their hair fixed up (usually by a friend, but sometimes at the salon) and shaved their legs. And had new shoes too. Guys would rent a tux and the matching clown shoes and order some random corsage for a few bucks. Honestly, I think more money was spent on the post-prom booze fest than the tux and corsage. And let’s not forget about that awkward group dinner at the local Red Lobster or chinese haunt.

Again, back in my day, the restaurant choices weren’t as vast. And if there were nice restaurants most weren’t willing to have dozens of teenagers descend upon them. No matter how nicely we were dressed. My school was’t the limo-going type so we couldn’t even trick a restaurant into thinking we were quality patrons. Most had cars or could borrow from a parent. Sure there were those who rented the limo, but it just wasn’t as usual back then as it is now.

Compared to proms today, I would have gone to the epitome of the dorkville high dance. When girls today are getting spray tanned, botox, designer dresses costing thousands and guys are shelling out thousands, it’s no wonder prom is a billion-dollar industry. I didn’t do regular prom, I don’t know how I would have ever managed Extreme Prom.

Prom has been been the focal point in teen movies for decades. Every few years there is some new movie about this teenage rite of passage that glamorizes the awkwardness. Looking back, I don’t regret not going to prom. At the time I didn’t regret it either. I actually hung out with my neighbor, one of the cutest guys in my class whom everyone thought was going to prom but no one asked. And, of course, that created rumor and drama.

Even though I didn’t go to prom, I’m not a prom-hater. I knew I wasn’t going to go because I wasn’t dating anyone in my class and the guy I was dating wasn’t the prom-date type. Remember that 8-year age difference? Besides, I had my promish experience with the Military Ball and hadn’t completed enough therapy to convince myself that going to prom would be a good idea.

I’m sure there are photos of me from the Military Ball somewhere. If any of my high school friends read my blog and have pictures, don’t let me know! I’d rather believe there are none. Although, it would be fun to go back and show my daughter. So on second though, fire up that scanner and email me all those embarrassing photos. I’ll be brave!

As I watched Glee tonight I couldn’t help but be reminded that no matter how much money is spent, how tech savvy we’ve become or fashion-forward our clothes, being a teen on the verge of adulthood is awkward. And prom is just one of the bridges we cross and one day look back upon with fondness.

What was your prom like? Was it fancy dress and limo or something more low key? And now, looking back, what are your thoughts of that evening?

Image Credit: Public Domain