Girls in STEM: Building Motivation and Competence through Sport

By Donovan Burriss and Kasey Kaler

The workforce of professionals concentrated in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is imperative to the expansion and innovation of America’s global competitiveness. Today, females are largely underrepresented in the STEM workforce and hold less than 25% of STEM professions (particularly engineering). Per the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics most females hold positions in primary education, as registered nurses, and are secretaries or administrative assistants.

From the onset of education, there is a gender divide in perceived STEM ability between boys and girls that begins as early as five years old and can last well beyond high school. One study showed that by third grade, boys rate their own math abilities as being higher than girls. While not fundamentally true, increasing young girl’s proficiency in STEM fields in fresh and original ways outside of the classroom holds practical application.

Not only are females underrepresented in STEM-related professions, but women have been and continue to be underrepresented in sports. In 2005/2006 there were roughly 2.9 million female high school athletes to 4.3 million males. That statistic was even more staggering at the collegiate level as there was a 2:1 male to female athlete ratio. Today, these numbers are more level as schools balance sports offerings in conformity with Title IX.

Achieving success with a sporting activity while learning STEM concepts creates a positive relationship towards education amongst students.

Positive reinforcement about performance and abilities also increase competence and essential motivation. In addition to competence, children require a sense of belonging and friendship in their lives.

By completing STEM Sports activities as a group, we as educators can foster team-building through creative problem-solving of STEM disciplines through sports all while increasing core competencies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Our student-led curriculum allows students to emerge as leaders in a collaborative and inquiry-based setting.

Sports are inherently team-oriented and nurture young girls to begin building intrinsic motivation in addition to leadership qualities. Learning isn’t what’s most important. What’s most important is what to do with that information and why it’s taught. By pairing this with STEM learning, STEM Sports developed a ready-for-use curriculum kits that will impart skills they will carry with them for a lifetime … all while fostering a love for sports.

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