Getting Girls to Stick with STEM

Lucy feeding a baby squirrel at the New England Wildlife Center

Lucy feeding a baby squirrel at the New England Wildlife Center

Some people just seem gifted with the ability to crunch numbers, analyze data, or write code. My daughter Lucy concluded by fifth grade, “I don’t have a math mind.” I’ve watched her struggle with math-based classes. And it’s true, math doesn’t come naturally to her—writing does. But she longs to be a veterinarian. I felt for her . . . I was much more talented at math than writing. I remembered facing that choice: should I follow my strengths or my passion? 

In tenth grade Lucy began to express serious doubts and worries about whether she could be successful in a STEM field. I absorbed her frustration as she floundered over her science fair experiment and grappled with calculus problems. At the beginning of her senior year, she was so undone by physics, she was certain she would fail and never get into college. But with each failed experiment or approach, and the occasional failed test, there was progress, and I saw Lucy becoming more resilient and a little less frustrated. She came to the important realization that failure is inherent and essential in these classes. A failure can be a success—a way to rule something out. Lucy now knows that with hard work and positive thinking, no matter how impossible her math and science work seems, she can succeed. And I see her carrying over this resilience to  other aspects of her life, too.

Scientist Angela Duckworth has demonstrated that grit—the combination of passion and perseverance—is a better measure of success than IQ (watch her ted talk). And the great news is that kids can learn and develop grit. 

I’ve been delighted to see the recent increase in children’s books about women in STEM fields. Why not introduce kids to these role models and discuss how these women took risks, embraced failures, and forged forward? One of my favorite new books is ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, by Laurie Wallmark, about an a 19th-century female mathematician and computer programming pioneer. Stay tuned for my next post—an interview with Laurie about her own experiences pursuing a STEM career and how Ada inspired her! 

Here are twelve of my favorites children's books about women in STEM fields. Please share yours in the comment section below!