Why doesn’t the world have more females in science-related professions?
Well, it could be because labs typically overflow with female repellent (dorks in white coats whose idea of showing a girl a good time is to dissect a frog in front of her). Or, according to a new study, women could be shying away from the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields because of the way those subjects are being taught in school.
The study, reported in Scientific American and Psychological Science, tracked college-bound students for more than a decade and found, interestingly, that women generally outscored the men in both math and the verbal portion of their SATs. Yet after graduation, far more men went into STEM careers than did women.
So why the disconnect? Blame it on traditional teaching methods – boring lectures, reliance on textbooks that cite fact after fact — that don’t engage the minds of women (which – we married males can attest – are razor sharp, especially when it comes to recalling that time 10 years ago when we forgot a little thing like an anniversary).
There’s an easy solution, fortunately: Use more storytelling in the classroom.
Surprisingly, a ban on dorks who try to impress the ladies with lines like: “Are you a carbon sample? Because I want to date you,” did not rank very high on the study’s suggestions.
That’s right. In this age of technology, where SnapChat users send 150 million images a day on their phones (about 149,999,999 of those involving under-clothed bodies), where Skype and Facebook and Google literally bring the world to our fingertips, the best learning device continues to be… a book spinning a good tale.
Stories stimulate the brain, which other research tells us doesn’t distinguish between reading about an experience and encountering it in reality (which explains why so many little boys think they really are Spiderman with sometimes tragic consequences). So if we used more life-centred stories involving science, we would fire up student imaginations – and connect better with women, who are naturally wired to embrace the social and emotional sides of the world (hence the elephant-like memory of forgotten anniversaries).
This is not to say that the classroom curriculum should expand to include the “science” of creationism, or Jurassic Park III (now available in 3D, a tad ironic for a film with characters that weren’t even two dimensional to begin with). In fact, we probably should automatically exclude from the proposed reading list most best-sellers, and anything about climate change that is recommended by conservatives.
That still leaves plenty of material to work with. All it takes is for the STEM teachers to reach out to the English and Humanities departments at their schools for some suggestions.
They should make the effort, because science-related professions desperately need more women in their ranks, according to entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates. His charitable foundation has funded major research projects around the world and sees first-hand that the sciences lack racial and gender diversity.
“We are failing to get women in. There must be something about how we teach the sciences that makes them not seem that attractive.”
It’s time to rewrite the ending of that story.