During the spring of 2017, I worked with a 6th-grade science classroom in Rhode Island via an education technology tool called Flipgrid (an asynchronous video discussion platform). Using Flipgrid, I would pose a weekly science or STEM questions and they would create short video responses to the prompt.
I’m an ecologist by training, so these prompts were largely focused on ecology. These prompts were open-ended so that the students were not focused on the “right” answer. This resulted in, plenty of open intellectual real-estate for the students to share their thoughts and ideas.
Towards the end of the academic year, I sent a prompt to the middle school students asking them what other types of scientists they would be interested in meeting/learning about. While the students were very excited to meet/learn about other types of scientists via Flipgrid, I was struck by the lack of diversity in their answers. Chemist, Biologist, Meteorologist.
In their responses, I saw an opportunity for K12 students to learn how many different types of scientists there were beyond these large categories. It got me thinking about how specialized we become as professional scientists and why this diversity is not more visible at the K-12 level.
This experience led me to start the 1000 STEM Women Project. The goal of the project is showing students (K-12 and other) how many different types of scientific fields exist. Using Flipgrid, the 1000 STEM Women Project curates a video library where female scientists can record 90-second descriptions with details of their research.
In these videos we ask the participating scientists to answer 4 questions:
- The type of scientist that they are specifically (so, not just a chemist, but an analytical chemist)
- What types of problems do they work on?
- What is left to figure out in that particular scientific sub-discipline?
We want the participating scientists to close their video with the questions that are still left to answer. This allows the students who watch the videos can see a path into a particular field via a question. These videos will be permanently available for ANY K12 (or college) classroom to utilize as a resource for their students.
Additionally, it provides an easily accessible resource for students to see some AMAZING female STEM role models. Even though there is evidence that students are more familiar with the idea of a female scientist (see the recent article in The Atlantic), this type of tangible role model helps students sharpen the resolution of what those female scientists do.
The well-known paleoecologist and science communicator Dr. Jacquelyn Gill said that the increase in female representation in Draw the Scientist is good, but noted the proportion of drawings that depict female scientists drops as students get older as they start forming their own scientific identity.
Right Role Models
The importance of female STEM role models was highlighted by the recent study showing that among women who were familiar with the X-files character Scully, “half (50%) say Scully increased their interest in STEM” and “nearly two-thirds (63%) of women that work in STEM say Dana Scully served as their role model”. Additionally, another study found that sparking interest in science at the middle-school level (the target demographic of the 1000 STEM Women Project) leads to believe and trust in scientists as they grow up.
Although right now, there are only 27 videos in the project, videos in the project are being used by K12 classrooms for career days and are being shared with K12 faculty. My hope is that slowly, these impacts will become more widespread and that more #womenInSTEM will join the project.
Finally, I hope that scientists see this is an opportunity to do some much-needed Science Communication (#SciComm). The ability to sum up your science in 90 seconds for a K12 audience is no easy task. So joining the project can also be a professional development opportunity for scientists to venture into the world of science communication.
I will close this post with a message from a colleague who shared the videos with a student of his: “Just got to share the thousand stem women project with a student for the first time. What a powerful experience! The day after I shared the link, this young lady had a totally different perspective achieving her personal goal of becoming a scientist. She said for the first time it seemed achievable.”
Please consider submitting your 90sec video here.
About the Author
Dr. Ramesh Laungani is an Associate Professor of Biology at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska. His scientific research focuses on the impacts of both climate change and climate change mitigation strategies on grasslands. His team examines how biochar additions to grassland soil can combat climate change by storing carbon for the long-term and how biochar additions affect the structure and functioning of grassland plant communities. Additionally, he spearheads the 1000 STEM Women Project.