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Girls + Math = More STEM Women

19 gotta-try STEM activities for middle school

There’s no doubt that when it comes to women in STEM careers, there is a wide gender gap. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. And the STEM gender gap starts well before students enter the job market: women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering. The crux of the STEM gender gap problem—and the solution—may lie in middle school math classrooms.

Another new study, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, found that a lack of confidence in math skills prevents many girls from pursuing a college degree in all STEM-related majors. Interestingly, the study of 4,451 students from 752 high schools nationwide found that while boys tended to overrate their abilities in mathematics, girls underrated them. The study also found that tenth-grade girls who reported being confident of their math skills were about twice as likely to select a science, math, or computer science major. The conclusion: girls and math can be a winning combination to unlock STEM potential. The key is building confidence at school and at home. Want to read more about closing the STEM gap for girls? Download the white paper!

… we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent … not being encouraged the way they need to.

—President Barack Obama

Here are 19 STEM activities for middle school that will bring out the inner mathematician in all of your students:

Annenberg Learner offers a variety of creative STEM lesson plans for middle school students involving math, including:

  1. Use a scene from Alice in Wonderland to introduce negative exponents and the rules for dividing powers.
  2. Examine the difference in the number of revolutions for each of two gears in a model, in order to understand the significance of the radii of the gears.
  3. Explore quadratic functions by using a motion detector known as a Calculator Based Ranger (CBR) to examine the heights of the different bounces of a ball.

Teaching Channel offers videos of fun STEM activities for middle school students, including:

  1. Graphing Linear Equations—Full Body Style: A hands-on activity to get students engaged in math.
  2. Turning social activities like playing board games and darts into math lessons: Shows how middle school math teachers are making math fun.
  3. STEM in Action: Teaching Channel Presents provides an hour of inspiration for middle school teachers. Students collaborate to complete engineering challenges requiring design, collaboration, calculations, and predictions.

Shoder, a nonprofit devoted to helping students master 21st century workforce skills and pursue STEM careers, provides free interactive online materials that use science, math, and computer science. You’ll find a variety of STEM activities for middle school students, including:

  1. Shoder Interactive: A set of free, online courseware for explorations of science and mathematics. You’ll find everything you need: activities, lessons, and discussions.
  2. GalaxySee: A walk through the creation of a simple computerized galaxy.
  3. Other Master Tools: Fractal modeling, biomedical modeling, and other interactive lessons are being developed.

Other middle school STEM activities involving math include:

  1. The National Parks Service: NPS offers curriculum materials and lesson plans, some of which combine STEM activities with environmental issues.
  2. STEM Alive: PBS Learning provides a series of educator training videos focused on STEM topics. Each video explores a lesson plan based on the teacher-tested, learner-centered RAFT Idea Sheets.
  3. Slippery Slope Architecture: Students build a tower of Lego® Duplos® on slopes of varying angles and determine how deep the foundations need to be to keep the tower standing upright. (Science Buddies)
  4. MIT STEM Summer Institute: One of many prestigious universities that offer STEM summer programs for middle school students. Check out the universities in your area and encourage your students to apply!
  5. NBC LEARN: This multi-part video series offers “Science of NFL Football” and “Science of the Olympic Winter Games.” This series explores the physics, engineering, science, and math of sports.
  6. National STEM Video Game Challenge: This multi-year competition motivates interest in STEM learning among students by tapping into their passion for playing and making video games.
  7. Design a board game: Classroom resources for designing a board game provided by the National STEM Centre.
  8. Museum of Science + Industry, Chicago—Online Science: One of many museums that offer apps and online activities for kids interested in science, math, and technology.
  9. NOVA: This PBS science show offers a treasure trove of videos and articles on evolution, nature, physics, math—and much more!
  10. Answers the age-old question: How will I ever use (fill in the blank with a math skill) in everyday life?
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