In America, there is a gender gap disfavoring females progressing into STEM careers that begins in elementary school such that between 4th and 12th grade 11% of girls lose interest in science (Ellis et al, 2016). There is evidence that suggests teacher influence and encouragement over a prolonged period of time has a direct effect on a female students’ decision whether to pursue her interest in science and ultimately choose a STEM career (Faitar & Faitar, 2013).
Closing the gender gap in STEM-related careers is important to address because the United States is facing a considerably large deficit of workers in STEM-related fields. A report written by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) states that, “Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.” (Olson et al, 2012, p.i). It has also been projected in this report that through 2018 approximately 1 million STEM job openings will require engineers and computer specialists. It is concerning with these projections in mind that currently, women “represent roughly 50% of the general population but only 25% of the overall STEM workforce” (Ellis et al, 2016, p.2). Not only are women a viable and readily available workforce to fill this deficit, but many STEM-related jobs are high-paying and available. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in their report on “STEM Occupations: Past, Present, And Future”, 93% of careers in STEM were above the national average of $48,320 with career choices requiring different levels of education ranging from 2-year degrees through graduate level degrees.
What is equally concerning as both the drop in student interest in science in elementary school and the job deficit, is there are 50% fewer freshmen women than men entering college pursuing a STEM degree. Although, comparable numbers of men and women (approximately 50%) who do pursue a STEM degree receive the degree, just under a third of those women enter a STEM-related career (Ellis et al, 2016). It is stated by PCAST that retaining just 10% of STEM majors in college would provide the majority of the qualified workforce that will be required (Olson et al, 2012). In short, if teachers could merely retain the 11% of interested female students through their elementary and secondary careers the workforce deficit would be avoided.
I chose this topic because I have the placement and qualifications in our society to contribute a small part in rectifying the larger issue. As a high school science teacher, and even more so, as a student focusing on the teaching and learning associated with science, I own certain aspects of this issue. As a son, husband, and father to a daughter I do not want to imagine or be a part of a society where females, particularly the females I care about, are excluded or dissuaded from any of their academic interests or career goals. In my experience, females contribute a perspective that is unique to males. It is and will be detrimental to our future wellbeing to not actively pursue the female perspective in STEM fields. I take any opportunity I can to actively encourage all of my students to pursue careers in areas that interest them, regardless of the challenges they may face to get there since lack of confidence is a primary factor in retaining students interested in STEM. Students often think that they are incapable of pursuing STEM or specifically, physics and engineering because they could never possibly be able to do the math required. I share with them my own story, that before I took a physics course or even thought about becoming a physics teacher I had failed math – multiple times. I used to tell myself in high school and college that I wasn’t good at math and proceeded to enable myself to fail at it. Even in science classes, which I knew I loved, I was unsuccessful until one day during a college chemistry lecture about the relationship of water temperature and dissolved oxygen that inspired me to pursue a career in chemistry education. It was really the connection I made to real life (fishing) that had inspired me – I had surmised that trout died in the shallow creek behind my house in the summertime was because they ran out of oxygen in the warm water! Suddenly teaching and learning chemistry became the number one priority, and to pursue my love of chemistry I would need to face my math-demon. Through learning chemistry, and lots of hard work, I became quite good if not highly proficient in math. I owe a small part to the initial inspiration and the rest to my mentors, both male, and female (mostly female), that had encouraged me to keep going and pursue my interests even if I failed along the way. I wouldn’t have had the motivation to become a science teacher, let alone a chemistry and physics teacher if I didn’t have that support group.
- Faitar, G. M., & Faitar, S. L. (2013). Gender Gap and Stem Career Choices in 21st Century American Education. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences,106, 1265-1270. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.12.142
- Olson, Steve|Riordan, & Gerardi, D. (2012, January 31). Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Report to the President. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED541511
- Ellis, J., Fosdick, B. K., & Rasmussen, C. (2016). Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline after Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit. Plos One,11(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157447
- STEM Occupations: Past, Present, And Future. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-occupations-past-present-and-future/pdf/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-occupations-past-present-and-future.pdf
1. Rosenthal, A. K., Hatam, H., & Rosenthal, P. (2018). Dear girl. New York, NY: Harper Collins Children’s Books.
Genre: Picture Book Age Range: 4-8
This book is written as a letter from a parent. In the letter, the daughter is given advice on how to follow their desires and shed criticisms to have a fulfilling life. Dear Girl is a high-quality text due to its authenticity and writing style. The letter is written by Amy Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal, a mother-daughter team, which makes it feel real – like it was written by your own mother. It has a common-sense writing style that is easy to read and internalize. As a parent, I would recommend reading this book to your daughter, even at a young age. The letter helps parents say things to their children that they don’t always get a chance to say or can’t find the words for. As a teacher, I could see students not just reading this text individually, but as a literature group.
2. Becker, H., & Phumiruk, T. (2018). Counting on Katherine: how Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company
Genre: Picture Book/Biography Age Range: 5-9
This book retells Katherine Johnson’s life, Johnson is an African-American physicist and mathematician who worked for NASA during the first lunar missions, including Apollo 13. Johnson’s notoriety came as one of the leading mathematicians in orbital trajectories that helped bring home the astronauts on 13’s failed mission to the Moon’s surface. This book is high quality do to the illustrations and the message behind the biography. The illustrations are full-page and capture the reader’s attention as they too help tell the story. The primary message in this book is overcoming sexism, but also to exhibit the pervasiveness of segregation in that time period and is supplemented by the illustrations. As a teacher, I would use this text as a case study in history. The civil rights movement is in full swing as well as deep-seated sexism for the duration of this story which serves as an inspiration to girls who are struggling against those very same issues today. As a parent, I would use this story to help inspire young girls to follow their dreams whether or not they are difficult or unconventional.
3. Favilli, E., & Cavallo, F. (2017). Good night stories for rebel girls. London: Particular Books.
Genre: Nonfiction Age Range: 6+
This book is a series of single-page stories about accomplished women from around the world. The stories all begin with, “Once upon a time…” and include a wide variety of cultures, accomplishments, and walks of life. This book is high-quality because of its originality and multicultural perspectives. Biographies can sometimes seem dull but since each story is only one page long there is only enough room to read about the highlight of each woman’s accomplishments which keeps it interesting. Since these women are chosen from around the world, a welcomed multicultural perspective is included. As a parent, I want to read this to my daughter as soon as she will listen. Parents with children (not just daughters) can read these stories as a nightly routine and help inspire the girls and lend perspective to the boys. Teachers may read these stories to very young children as an introduction to a unit in school or just for fun.
4. Beaty, A., & Roberts, D. (2016). Ada Twist, scientist. New York, NY: Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Genre: Picture Book Age Range: 4-9
This book follows a young girl, Ada Marie Twist, from infancy to second grade as she explores the world around her. The story follows Ada as she investigates the source of a stinky smell and includes all of the wonderful questions that a young person could ask and how her parents react to them. This book is high-quality because of its originality, illustrations, and readability. The illustrations are highly detailed, colorful and add another dimension to the reader’s experience. The rhyming scheme is perfectly suitable for a read aloud to a young audience from ages 3-7. Parents and teachers can utilize this work as a call for inspiration in their young kids and students. Teachers can incorporate this text into the beginning of their science unit as a way to explain their expectations to their students. Parents may want to utilize this text as a way to structure and explore their own child’s curiosity.
5. Beaty, A., & Roberts, D. (2013). Rosie Revere, engineer. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Genre: Picture Book Age Range: 4-9
This book follows a young girl, Rosie Revere, during a visit from her great-great-aunt Rose, based loosely on Rosie the Riveter, who has always wanted to fly. Rosie, who has a passion for designing and building her inventions out of scraps, builds a flying machine for her great-great-aunt. This book is high-quality because of its message and its illustrations. The message of this book is to persevere – even through failure and the ridicule. The illustrations as with Ada Twist are top-notch and out of sheer necessity to depict these great machines that Rosie builds rather than for adding dimension as in Ada Twist. Parents and teachers looking to inspire their young child to create and build look no further. We all have a situation occur in our lives where we question the validity of our passions – for times when a child questions their abilities I would read them this book. Teachers can use this book in their STEM classroom to inspire young girls to persist in whatever interests them and to break the stereotype that “girls don’t build.”
6. Scieszka, J., & Smith, L. (1995). Math curse. New York, NY: Viking.
Genre: Humor Age Range: 4-9
This book is about a math student who has been “cursed” to think of everything she encounters one day as a math problem – even English and social studies class! The story goes into detail about each encounter and the different math principles at work which at first seem impossible but in the end, become easy and completely doable. This is a high-quality text because of its wide application, originality, and illustrations. As a physics teacher, I am happy that someone has finally written about what my brain goes through on a daily basis. In that light, I found that this book is worth reading at any age students encounter math. The topics and illustrations were both highly original and creative such that they worked together to maintaining readability even though the book is written in test question format. As a teacher, I am considering using this text as an example of “scientific thinking” for students. As mentioned earlier, as a science teacher, my brain has been rewired to ask questions and be curious about my world and although it seems overwhelming and difficult at first, it’s really a piece of cake! Teachers of younger students might use only one page or one situation from this book to inspire student thinking about a certain topic such as unit conversions. Parents can use this book with its humor to help foster mathematical thinking in their children.
7. Clinton, C., & Boiger, A. (2017). She persisted: 13 American women who changed the world. New York, NY: Philomel Books.
Genre: Picture Book Age Range: 5-9
This book is a series of short stories retelling the accomplishments of thirteen notable American women who exhibited perseverance. The collection includes a variety of accomplishments from sports to government, and even dance! This is a high-quality book because of its theme and illustrations. The theme of persistence resonates through every page in this book with each woman given a page for a story where, “she persisted,” and another page for a famous quote. The illustrations help to quickly set the scene from page to page and story to story. A teacher could use this book as a brief overview of the accomplishments of some of America’s iconic women. This overview could be used as a list of famous women that students can choose from to do a more detailed biographical. A parent could choose this book as a way of introducing these women’s stories to their children.
8. Stine, M. (2014). Who was Marie Curie? New York, NY: Penguin Workshop.
Genre: Biography Age Range: 8-12
This book is a biography of Marie Curie, one of the first women scientists. The biography outlines her discoveries, her life, and her education while making her way to be the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and the only person to win in two areas of science. This book is high-quality because of its information and accessibility. Sometimes a biography can be bland and uneventful, but utilizing Curie’s vast number of accomplishments and personal life, the reader can place themselves as an observer of her life. The sequence and structure in which this book is written allow the reader to understand the whole story by incorporating background information when it’s needed. Marie Curie’s life is fairly exciting and inspirational – I had to read this book in one sitting because I wanted to know what would happen next. As a teacher, I would love for students to experience the inspirational accomplishments of Curie. The book and Curie’s life exhibits a theme of perseverance – Marie was often the first women to surpass many of the obstacles that other women had faced in the past. As a parent or teacher, I would recommend this book to any child that needs the inspiration to keep moving forward.
9. Wallmark, L., & Wu, K. (2017). Grace Hopper: Queen of computer code. New York: Sterling Children’s Books.
Genre: Biography Age Range: 8-12
Grace Hopper made her career in the Navy as a computer programmer. This book outlines her involvement in computer programming and the Navy from her inception in 1943 until her retirement in 1986. Her accomplishments which are outlined in this book are truly incredible, especially for those who were not aware that computers have been in existence for her entire career. This book is high-quality because it highlights not only the outstanding career of this woman but her thoughts and inspirational attitude. The illustrations in the book help to set the scene of a woman who was dedicated to her work, the advancement of computer science programming, and the security of her country. As a parent, I would buy this for my daughter because it’s an inspirational story in a subject area that sees extremely low participation from females in STEM fields. As a teacher, using this biography as an introduction to the history of coding and what it’s all about would help to frame computer science programmers in a livelier and more realistic setting – since when I talk to my students the stereotype of a middle-aged male sitting in his basement wearing glasses staring at a computer screen prevails.
10. Kay, K., Shipman, C., Riley, J., & Lawson, N. (2018). The confidence code for girls: Taking risks, messing up, & becoming your amazingly imperfect, totally powerful self. New York, NY: Harper.
Genre: Advice Age Range: 9-13
This book utilizes comics, quizzes, quotes, vignettes, and more to mentor anyone (not just girls) into deconstructing negative thinking and replacing it with confidence. Through eleven chapters, the reader takes various perspectives of confidence on a psychological, social, and philosophical level. This book is high-quality because of its accessibility to readers and its central theme: confidence. The authors do a fantastic job of incorporating authentic responses to questions posed and practical ways for girls to begin restructuring their thoughts in a more positive way. The authors list pages of their resources if anyone, the parent or young girl, would like to learn more. Because this book is so accessible, it is easy to utilize on a chapter by chapter basis. A parent/teacher may observe their child/student struggling in one of the areas highlighted in this book and may offer the child some light reading to help them sort through their issue. From a teacher’s perspective, students are often stressed over their grades due to parent and self-expectations, which this book has a chapter on. If I observe a student who is stressing about their grades it would help to have this book as a reference when speaking to them.
11. Reichs, K. (2012). Virals. New York, NY: Penguin Young Readers Group.
Genre: Science Fiction Age Range: 9+
This books main character is related to the TV show, “Bones,” character Temperance Brenner who is on the show a forensic anthropologist. This series is about her great-niece, Tory Brennan, and her friends as they solve science-based mysteries. This book is high-quality because of its realistic science content, written by Kathy Reichs, who is herself a forensic anthropologist. The storyline is relatable to female students in middle and high school so much that upon mentioning this to one of my female students they mentioned how much they loved the series. This book could be used by teachers to inspire students with different ideas in science – after all, science fiction literature fuels our societies desire to develop our knowledge and technology. A parent might recommend this series to a girl who doesn’t quite love to read but is interested in science or forensics.
12. Hilton, M. (2015). Full Cicada Moon. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Genre: Poetry/Historical Novel Age Range: 9+
A young girl of mixed race tells the story of her moving to a predominately white town in Vermont in the 1960s who wants to be an astronaut. The book addresses the female perspective and female stereotype shift during the late 1960s and is the winner of the 2015-16 APALA Literature Award in Children’s books. A social studies teacher could utilize this book in a unit on the 1960s, especially the space race. As a science teacher, I would use this book in conjunction with a biography on Sally Ride or other female astronauts to help paint a picture of the struggle to be a female desiring to be something different.
13. Acevedo, S. (2018). Path to the stars: My journey from Girl Scout to rocket scientist. Boston: Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Genre: Autobiography Age Range: 10+
This book is the authors telling of her life from growing up in New Mexico to becoming a scientist if NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The author describes her life from a Latina female growing up in the 1960s. This book is high-quality because of the setting and perspective of the author’s story. The 1960s seems to have been a turning point in how the Nation stereotyped females – why would females want to do anything but raise a family? The author had dreams in spite of the stereotype and eventually went to college, became a scientist, and is now CEO of the Girl Scouts. As a teacher, I would use this as a tool for delivering inspiration to my female students. It tells the story of a woman who could not have predicted where she would eventually land in life. It is relatable to my students because they are often stressed with trying to pick the one thing they will do the rest of their lives – which is often not reality. As a parent, I would give this to my daughter to read for the same reasons I would recommend it as a teacher to my female students.
14. Gonzales, A., & Houser, S. (2017). Girl code: Gaming, going viral, and getting it done. New York, NY: Harper, a division of HarperCollins.
Genre: Autobiography Age Range: 12+
This book is the autobiography of two girls (now women) who created a video game together and became famous. The story is an inside look into the life of two female coders who are now part of companies that design and create video games. This book is a Junior Library Guild selection and a Children’s Book Council Best STEM Trade Book for Students K-12. The book is high-quality because it tells the story of two female-role models in a field of STEM which has a notoriously low turn-out of female interest. I would recommend this book to any of my female students who are interested in coding or science in general – primarily the AP computer science and computer science classes in high school. As a parent, I would encourage my daughter to read this story in middle and high school. Although, I wouldn’t hesitate to read this to a younger audience in small portions.
15. Cavallaro, B. (2016). A study in Charlotte: A Charlotte Holmes novel. New York, NY: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Genre: Mystery Age Range: 14+
This is a mystery series involving the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, fictional characters from the world-famous mystery books involving early forensics by Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the story and adventures of Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson while attending a boarding school in Connecticut. This book is high-quality because of its themes and originality. Although the themes of this book lend themselves to an older audience, it portrays young women with minds of their own and the confidence to solve a murder mystery on their own. As a teacher I would recommend this book to a student I know can handle the darker themes brought up in this novel but might benefit from reading a book based upon female characters. As a parent, I would utilize this book as a way to encourage my daughter to read more while maintaining a theme of scientific reasoning.
16. Gay, R., & Coates, T. (2017). Black Panther: World of Wakanda. New York, NY: MARVEL WORLDWIDE.
Genre: Graphic Novel Age Range: 9+
This book continues the story of the Black Panther comic series in a female perspective as one of the women recruited for the “secret service” of Wakanda, a fictional city. The main character is followed in a love story while still trying to do her duty as a protector of the city. This book is high-quality because of its themes. The powerful females who protect this highly evolved society is a refreshing perspective – not only in comics but in fictional stories in general. The Black Panther series is also a high-quality book that focuses on an African society that is the most technologically advanced in the world; a refreshing narrative on what Africa could be. As a teacher, I would offer this series to female students who need a little inspiration but are primarily dreamers. I think this book is appropriate to dreamers because like all sci-fi, a little bit of imagination is what helps to advance our thinking of what could be a reality. As a parent, I would suggest this for children who may enjoy reading graphic novels, or who enjoy reading regular books and want to branch out.
17. Freudenberger, N. (2019). Lost and wanted. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Genre: Novel Age Range: 16+
This book is a novel about Helen Clapp, a theoretical physicist who by nature is convinced only by facts and swayed only by trends in data. Her science-mind is shaken when she gets a call from her dead friend whom she shared intimate aspects of her life during college. This is her journey in dealing with her friend’s death and subsequent phone call – spiritually, emotionally, and scientifically. This book is high-quality because it is original, provides a female physicist role-model, and has young adult themes. The themes in this novel such as coping, advancing a career, attending college are those that are most important for young females who haven’t yet experienced those things, to read about. As a teacher, I would recommend this to my female students who are anticipating entering college – especially those interested in majoring in science. As a parent, I would probably wait until my child is in high school before recommending this book. Even though I feel this book would be appropriate for a female student who has continued onto their graduate studies.
18. McKellar, D. (2011). Hot X: Algebra exposed. New York, NY: Plume.
Genre: Education/Math Age Range: 13-15
This book is part of a series of books that are educational, fun, and full of advice about how to keep a girl’s confidence high even up against math – this time algebra. The author shares her experiences as an actress and her thoughts and feelings towards math as she grew into an academic, she also takes time to addresses the stereotypes in math. This book is high-quality because the author is passionate and relatable to young adults. The author shares her personal experience with math and her second career as an academic. She easily relates to the reader with her anecdotes and thoughts about school life for a teenager, and the advice she offers from experience. As a physics (& math) teacher, I would keep this book on hand at all times. In math class, this could even be part of an effort to incorporate literacy into the curriculum. In physics and chemistry, it may be helpful to keep at least one copy on hand to share with students who are struggling with math –this could turn their perception of math around!
These books would be used in a social studies unit looking into topics such as woman’s suffrage, sexism, racism, and comparing general stereotypes of women throughout the last century of American history. Starting with nonfiction, “Who Was Marie Curie,” through to “Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done” I would separate students into groups by assigning excerpts from each book that have a prominent theme. I would ask students to pick out the themes of each excerpt associated with each woman’s struggles beginning in the early 1900s up to the present day. I would ask each group to present summaries of their excerpt and the themes they had identified. A central document will be utilized as a way for the entire class to look at each other’s summaries and findings. Individually, students would be asked to reflect on the struggles of each woman and how they found success and how did those successes open the door for others to follow while breaking the stereotypes of their time. Lastly, I would have students read excerpts from “Full Cicada Moon,” a fictional story, and compare the accuracy of the struggles and stereotypes in the story versus historical reality – are stereotypes and how women are treated in the fictional story accurate to the time period or do some present themselves as more modern or antiquated?