As a native of Mexico City and father of two girls, I am passionate about using education technology to increase diversity in STEAM. I’ve seen firsthand how girls in my classes and robotics clubs are often less confident in coding and robotics when they first get started, but through overcoming challenges and hands-on learning, they become strong leaders among their peers. Last year the girls served as captains of our two robotics competition teams. The teams used LEGO Education WeDo 2.0 and LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 tools and software. I watched proudly as the groups brainstormed ideas and then created their first LEGO alligator.
Nurturing diverse voices and participation in STEAM means applying a few different approaches. Here’s what has worked for me:
Let students gain confidence through hands-on projects. It never ceases to amaze me how much students learn through hands-on experiences. My computer science classroom is set up with totes filled with LEGO solutions. Students can use these to build, create and explore their ideas. We also begin teaching coding and STEAM concepts when students are young, as early as pre-K. This early introduction helps all learners get comfortable with these ideas and nurtures their confidence to continue pursuing these subjects as they get older.
Recognize potential–and nudge it out of its comfort zone. Many students join a STEAM club or class with limited experience in subjects such as robotics. This is true regardless of gender, yet girls tend to be more reluctant than their male peers about speaking up in class or taking on leadership roles. I counter this by assigning team leaders; this helps ensure balance among the genders and saves me from relying on students to volunteer. The girls are often surprised when I make them team captains but they always rise to the challenge and complete the course with great confidence and pride.
Prioritize effort over correct answers. It is common for my students to struggle and get frustrated when working on a coding or robotics lesson in which there is no simple right or wrong answer. I always tell them that failures and problems are okay because we learn from them. I back this up by giving them grades for effort more than correct answers. Allowing students to learn through meaningful failure provides them the space to gain confidence and succeed the next time.
Get parents involved. I believe that if I can teach a parent technology, then they are more apt to encourage and push their children to follow their STEAM interests. I assist our parents in our open house to answer questions about the systems we use in our school. Our population of Hispanic parents is about 40%. I explain to them, in Spanish, how important and vital their engagement is for their child’s success in STEAM.
Other ways we engage with parents is by hosting potlucks — during which we explain STEAM opportunities — and inviting them to participate in activities around Computer Science Education Week in December. I explain our computer science goals and then pull in students from my robotics and coding clubs to demonstrate the different projects we work on. My ultimate reward as an educator is when I can open the eyes of both parents and students to the possibilities of STEAM careers.
Expand your STEAM network. I’m always looking for ways to have a ripple effect of impact beyond my community through outreach with other teachers and community members. I’m a TCEA Region 11 robotics coach and through that, I’m always encouraging other teachers to attend so they can become coaches and reach even more students in their communities. No single teacher can solve this alone. I also go into the faith community and teach free computer science classes in Spanish to mothers and girls. By providing laptops and some Spanish lesson plans, these classes open the eyes of the communities and let them know anything is possible. I also attend EdCamps, so I can connect with other educators, share my knowledge and learn from them.
Javier Aguilar is a bilingual technology teacher in his sixth-year teaching technology and computer science to Pre-K-5th grade students. He is also a LEGO Education Master Educator and TCEA Region 11 robotics coach.
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