Case Study: Girls In STEM
Impassioning young girls to participate in STEM activities.
- Problem Starting at an early age, girls lose interest in STEM areas at a significantly higher rate than boys.
- Solution A tablet game for girls ages 6-8 that bolsters girls’ interest in STEM using positive feedback and encouragement, strong female role models, and collaborative game play.
- My Skills/Roles User experience designer, User interface designer, Mobile designer, User researcher, Prototyper
- ToolsOmniGraffle, Axure
- Project DetailsThis was completed over the course of 3 weeks during Winter 2014.
Even though girls and boys take roughly the same amount of math and science courses in primary and secondary school, women represent only a fraction of STEM (science, technology, engineering, & math) majors in post-secondary education and beyond.
Despite the fact that girls perform just as well (if not better) than boys, gradual decrease in women’s representation in STEM fields is largely due to the intersection of several problems:
- Differential experience with spatial tasks and complex problem solving (girls do not perform as well when problems are posed abstractly).
- Societal and community expectations that put more pressure on girls to pursue careers in social domains.
- Gender stereotypes and discrimination that discourage girls from pursuing careers that are male-dominated.
- Access to role models that is much more limited and ill-informed on the variety of career options.
- A skewed perception on the role of effort and ability in achievement (compared to boys girls will much more readily give up on a task).
These problems begin at a very early age (around 6 years) and continue on into adulthood, contributing to what is known as the "leaky pipeline effect" (the slow and steady decrease in girls’ representation in STEM fields).
A tablet app for girls ages 6-8 that sustains girls’ interest in STEM using a story-based approach. The app provides girls with strong female role model characters (especially historical figures) and provides a narrative that allows for a big-picture solution while teaching essential critical STEM skills like arithmetic, the scientific method, and basic programming. The app includes both story (single-player) and collaborative modes and allows for girls to help one another solve complex problems.
A prototype app was developed and tested on girls ages 5-10. The story featured Sally Ride as the heroine. Girls helped Sally Ride launch her space shuttle using basic arithmetic and received an achievement for completing their first mission. If a girl answered a question wrong, she was encouraged to try again.
The app tested better with younger girls and served as reinforcement to the curriculum they learned in school. Even when they answered questions wrong, girls continued on in the game. When parents were present to play the game with their child, girls performed even better.
Though the app tested well with the younger audience, a mobile app only addresses one problem in the bigger picture problem of girls’ STEM education. The current standard educational system overall does not bolster girls’ endeavors into STEM areas. Arguably one of the biggest problems facing STEM education for girls is the societal expectations and gender stereotypes. While diminishing, these stereotypes still contribute to girls not taking more STEM classes. Many girls cite a fear of being inadequate or being the only female representative (or both) as reasons for not participating in STEM courses. These are, of course, things that an app cannot solve.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, parental support is one of the biggest factors that can help drive girls into STEM careers. When girls have parents who encourage their academic endeavors, girls are far more likely face challenges head-on.
Math problems for girls photograph taken by woodleywonderworks