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“You want to do Engineering?! That’s just not what girls do.”
This was the “advice” given to me as a teenager, when I was asked about my aspirations. This experience is true for many young women who want to pursue a career in Engineering, their ambitions and abilities are questioned, now resulting in a gender imbalance in STEM-related jobs. My role as an educator in a girls’ school is not only to impart knowledge, but to instigate the confidence that they lack. Girls are and have always been interested in STEM, but their (and others) misconceptions hold them back.
I have been a teacher since 2007, and Head of Design and Technology at a girls’ school since 2010, focusing on overhauling the perception of women in STEM.
When I started, Product Design and Electronics wasn’t too popular with the students, deeming it intimidating with scary machines. Designing and making a product can be difficult and many cannot accept making mistakes as part of learning. The department had an image problem.
Over the years, through trial and error of different projects, trips, extra-curricular clubs, teaching resources, there is now love and optimism from the students. They are willingly taking risks and flourish from their perseverance. They’re enthusiastic and take pride in their work. They’re unafraid to collaborate with older year groups. They will voluntarily sacrifice lunchtimes to come and work on their projects. They want to know how things work, why things don’t work and cannot stop thinking about the next step.
When confidence and perceptions about a subject are positive, learning and progression will naturally follow. Many of the students I have taught for GCSE and A Level are now embarking on their careers related to Design, Architecture and Engineering. They understand the importance of Design and Technology and more importantly, they recognise that women are as good as (sometimes better!) than men in STEM.
I’m an avid user of technology in the classroom. I use Google for Education across all age groups in my teaching for e-portfolios and assessment. Having done much reading and research on pedagogical approaches to education, I have created a series of e-learning courses providing instruction, but also reinforcing students’ knowledge and understanding through retrieval practice techniques. Currently, I am developing ways to use VR within the classroom to provide fully immersive experiences to aid students with designing.
3D printing has been revolutionary in the way Design and Engineering is being taught in schools; there is so much scope for experimentation with structures and materials. In a world where young learners are used to having their needs met instantly by technology, 3D Printing has been essential for creating a drawing into a tangible object, which can be scrutinised and developed in a few hours. 3D Printing doesn’t discriminate; it is accessible for all ages and abilities.