This week, Harpeth Hall in Nashville hosted its first summer STEM Think Tank and Conference. The focus of the TTC was to “ensure our focus of STEM education for girls remains at the cutting edge.” What I found intriguing was that many of the sessions were interesting, but did not particularly move the dialogue forward. When I look at what we do at Marymount and the dialogue we are having, then I’m quite confident we are ahead of the curve – way ahead.
The first session I attended was “Clues to becoming a STEM Major.” Presented by the College Board, this workshop focused on how the SAT questionnaire and AP Exam patterns and performance predicts STEM Majors. This was a whole bunch of statistics that looked at whether students persist or switch STEM majors. The results were interesting – but not surprising. For example, students who take 6 or more AP exams in the physical sciences tend to persist more than those who don’t. No consideration was given, though, to students who switch after they check the box on the questionnaire and before they start college.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Chris Rogers, professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts and Director of the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. All I can say is “wow!” He gets it. In his presentation, Dr. Rogers reviewed a number of innovative and interesting learning strategies for students. Moreover, Dr. Rogers understands the need for students to tinker, explore and play. We are pretty jazzed he accepted our invitation to visit Marymount!
The next session I attended was a Think Tank Discussion on “Finding Your Passion.” Led by Tina Hudson of Roche Diagnostics, the session was to focus on the “vast career opportunities that STEM pursuit provides.” The discussion was reasonably interesting but included one of the most insensitive and stereotypical lines I have heard about girls and science education: “Girls should not be playing with wires and bolts, but should be doing things like designing clothes, and perfume.” And just when you think it can’t get any worse, we had “men do not like to work in groups but alone, while women will meet and discuss shoes and then come up with a solution.” To be honest, I was so in shock that I didn’t challenge the speaker on this one (besides she was too busy texting after she pontificated) and even more shocking, no one else challenged her as well.
Its not just STEM for girls – its good learning for girls, people.