A Girl Scout’s Guide to the Benefits of STEM Programs (Even When She’s Not Going into a STEM Career)

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: STEM pervades every aspect of our society, and is the engine of our future. And while STEM has always been a part of the Girl Scout movement, GSUSA recently released tons of new badges, Journeys, and programs to help girls explore STEM fields.

Why? Because we want girls to be the innovators, creators, and change makers of our future and that includes STEM fields where women are traditionally under-represented. Girl Scouts is committed to reducing the STEM gap by making sure girls feel supported and confident in exploring these exciting and important fields, despite the societal pressure, stereotypes, and obstacles they may encounter.

But what if your girl doesn’t want to be a scientist or a coder? What if she loves literature and really wants to be a mystery writer? Or is an unstoppable soccer player and dreams of playing on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team? Is there a benefit to encouraging her to do STEM activities and badges if she’s sure she’s not going to pursue a STEM career?

Why yes, yes there is!

GSUSA’s four STEM Outcomes — STEM Interest, STEM Confidence, STEM Competence, and STEM Value — show us how girls benefit when they participate in STEM programming, no matter what kind of career they pursue.

STEM Interest

STEM at Girl ScoutsGirls learn that STEM is exciting and want to engage in STEM activities.

Spark your girls’ interest in STEM by introducing them to all the amazing fields of science that are out there to explore. Host a star party to get your girls dreaming of becoming an astrophysicist or astronaut. Introduce them to environmental sciences by taking a field trip to a nearby state or national park, so they can imagine themselves as conservationists, biologists, botanists, and beyond. Invite an engineer from Raytheon, the University of Arizona, or another local organization to speak at a troop meeting, and share her experience. Watch your girls build robots, and envision what they might invent when they grow up. Teach them the basics of programming, and wonder how they might change the world. Head to our online Events Calendar and search keywords like “stem,” “science,” “engineering,” “environment,” or “astronomy” to find programs that will let girls experiment with new interests and passions.

This month in particular, we’re hosting a special STEMtember extravaganza your girls won’t want to miss!

STEM Confidence

_DSC0348Girls have confidence in their STEM skills and abilities.

 

Confidence is key to keeping girls in STEM. Child development studies show that as early as the second grade, kids agree that math is for boys, not girls, despite there being no difference in math and science abilities between the genders. Stereotypes like this damage girls’ interest in STEM, contributing to the lack of women in STEM fields. Use positive, encouraging language with the girls (and yourself!) when you try new activities, whether it’s playing with pH strips or identifying birds on a hike. Give girls specific feedback that encourages them to focus on their efforts and recognize their progress as they learn. “Yet” is a powerful word to remind girls that they can learn and build new skills: “I can’t do it… yet!” Emphasize that practice makes progress—not perfection.

To make your experiments a snap, explore the Volunteer Toolkit, where you can access ready-made, step-by-step meeting plans for guiding your girls through the new STEM badges; or reserve the STEM Laboratory at Angel’s Place for Girls and check out the STEM kits and supplies we have on hand.

STEM Competence

TX_MarComm14_108017.jpgGirls think scientifically to solve problems.

Girls supporting girls is not only what Girl Scouts does, but it’s way to set girls up for success in STEM. It can be intimidating for adults to approach a STEM topic where we have very little prior knowledge, let alone for girls to try something potentially difficult and brand new. The STEM fields are diverse and complex, and scientists are constantly making new discoveries that influence our understanding of the world around us. But don’t be intimidated! More important than knowing any coding language or math formula, developing a scientific method of looking at the world is what girls need most. When you work with girls, encourage them to think critically and approach problem-solving with creativity and persistence. If you notice girls using a specific science skill, point it out to them. “I notice you’re making observations—that’s exactly what a scientist would do!”

Some other signs of “thinking like a scientist” are:
  • Trying to understand the cause of a problem
  • Gathering and carefully considering information from different places
  • Making observations and predictions
  • Communicating ideas and experiences
  • Persisting through challenges
  • Trying several ways to solve a problem
  • Using reasoning and logic

Learning to think like a scientist is a journey, so why not start in on one of the new STEM Journeys from GSUSA! From computer programming to engineering to citizen science, these in-depth project series create pathways that open up entire realms of possibility for girls.

STEM Value

PBGSC16_YJM_1906 (1).jpgGirls learn the importance and relevance of STEM to people and society.

Learners are more connected and engaged when they are focused on a topic that is relevant to them. We all need to know that STEM is related to our everyday lives, and can help make the world a better place. Help make those connections for your girls by asking them about science they notice in everyday life: smartphones, cars, bridges, cooking… the list goes on and on! You might also ask for girls to share their prior knowledge about the science they encounter every day. With your guidance and support, they will make connections between the activities they’re doing, and real-world problem-solving.

Even if they don’t choose science, technology, engineering, or math as a career, each of these outcomes builds resilience and persistence in girls and helps them form life-long identities as curious, creative, out-of-the-box thinkers in whichever field or passion they decide to pursue.

Most of all, the confidence, skills, and support they receive in our STEM programming will help them value who they are, and become who they want to be. Girl Scout CEO (and former rocket scientist) Sylvia Acevedo said, “Girl Scouts gave me that early confidence of being competent to…talk about what I deserve and not taking no for an answer.” Girl Scouts STEM programming isn’t rocket science—it’s just common sense.


Adapted from Girl Scouts of Northern California’s How Girl Scout STEM Programs Benefit Girls and Girl Scouts of Western Ohio’s Reasons to Build STEM Skills (Even When She’s Not Going into a STEM Career)

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