Lucy, what is your background and why are you so passionate about STEM?
From a really early age I was fascinated in ‘making stuff’, whether craft, LEGO, needlework or elaborate paper, card and cellotape inventions (which mostly fell apart)! A couple of books on why and how things work and an inspiring teacher steered this interest towards science and a stroke of luck opened my eyes, despite being a girl, to what Engineering really is. I went on to study Engineering at Cambridge and focus my career in making technology a positive influence on people from elderly homecare systems to educational game development. STEM in all its forms has given me so much joy that I’m passionate about making sure as many people as possible get a chance to love it!
Why you think this is an important issue for parents today?
Where do I start?! STEM career opportunities are vast, varied, plentiful and great fun! Knowledge, skills and techniques learnt via STEM stand children in amazing sted for every area of adult life from finances and health to logically solving any problem that comes their way. There is concern that excessive ‘screen time’ in the young may be decreasing our children’s creativity, turning to inherently creative STEM activities may just provide the answer. Not to mention STEM activities are incredibly fun!
Why aren’t there more girls involved in this subject and what should we be doing to change that?
Recent research calls into question all previously accepted ideas that the male brain is, on average, more suited to STEM subjects. It suggests that it is society’s expectation that STEM subjects are really only of interest to boys and somehow inappropriate to girls that leads few girls to ever consider STEM as something for them. They get far fewer chances to hone their STEM skills from the day they are born. Furthermore, the rapid decrease in interest in STEM amongst girls between 9 and 12 coincides with a period where girls are increasingly steered by their friends, keen to fit in and to establish their femininity. To have an interest in STEM at this age girls must typically set themselves apart, even today. To address these barriers, girls must be given a chance to build their STEM skills from the earliest age, just as boys are – through their play. We should expect and encourage interest in construction toys, puzzles and similar play. But we must also construct a world in which STEM interest is no less girly and aspirational for all. Personally I see the potential in a convergence of classically girl-friendly art and craft with classically boy-friendly STEM-based creative activities. Coding, robotics, 3D printing… the potential of the ‘maker movement’ holds the promise of being game changing.
How can we support and encourage our children’s interest in STEM?
With this in mind, don’t expect instant scientists, instead explore the opportunities of new and old technology to get children making and experimenting. Embrace the world of coding, construction and creativity, see what they can do with a BBC microbit, makey makey, sphero or a motor added to their LEGO set. Encourage them to think about the why and how in every day life. Don’t just give them a cooking recipe, give them some ingredients and see what they come up with. There are so many ways to get them started but the most important is to make it fun!