Girls Rock STEM

640px-Astronauts_Joan_Higginbotham_(STS-116)_and_Sunita_Williams_(Expedition_14)_on_the_International_Space_StationIf you work in education, you know about STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. In recent years, a strong STEM push has been occurring in our schools. The U.S. ranks 27 among developed nations in the proportion of students receiving degrees in science and engineering. The majority of engineering Ph.D’s earned in the U.S. are by citizens of other countries. Twenty-first century jobs demand knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Nowhere has the lack of STEM been more apparent than with girls. In elementary school, girls and boys show similar interest and skill in science and math. The number of girls in STEM starts dropping in middle schools with an even larger drop in high school. Fewer girls majoring in STEM fields in college means fewer female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in our future.

Why the drop in girl’s interests and abilities in STEM areas? Gender bias evident in how we think, play, and behave. Society expects and encouraged boys to build and be good at math. Not so with girls. Consider these statistics about Advanced Placement test takers in 2013 from the College Board:

  • Slightly more than half of AP test takers in Biology (59%) and Environmental Science (53%) are girls.
  • Calculus AB and Statistics test takers are almost even between the genders.
  • Those taking AP tests in Physical sciences, Calculus BC, and Computer Science are significantly more male. For instance, Computer Science A test takers are primarily male (81%).

Things are improving. According to the National Science Foundation, women have earned 57% of undergraduate degrees in science and engineering. But when you break down the numbers according to types of sciences, the view changes. Although the number of women exceed men in biological sciences, that number falls in other areas and is dismally low in engineering.

More needs to be done. Women’s history month is great for introducing girls to the many women scientists who have excelled. Book series like the Girls in Science series by Nomad Press increase interest. The Women of Action series at Chicago Review Press also highlights many female scientists and builders.

Check out the programs and websites that encourage girls in STEM, including:

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Amazing Women in History

Don’t forget to drop by Kerilynn Engel’s fascinating site, Amazing Women in History, to read about, well, amazing women in history. This is a site that looks at women you may not have heard of, but who should be in the history books.

Yours truly posted about one of my favorites, Bessie Coleman. See the post at and then take some time to look around. I guarantee you’ll like what you see.

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Native American Women in History

When recognizing women past and present, many heroines are white. Increasing numbers of African American women are finally being recognized—Sojourner Truth, Bessie Coleman, Mae Jamison, Condoleezza Rice, Lena Horne, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman. Still, it’s only a fraction of the great women.

What about Native American women? Can you name notable Native American women in history? Pocohontas and Sacagawea don’t count, mainly because their stories are so wrapped up in legend and Disney packaging that it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.

Can you name any others? If you can’t, you’re far from alone. Native women have largely been invisible in history AND herstory.

Countless strong, fearless Native women have made their mark. Their stories only have to be told. Let’s start sharing those stories. Here’s a start…

Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee)

Even if I didn’t share a Cherokee heritage or live in Oklahoma I would hope I would have heard of Wilma Mankiller, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 2010. She was an amazing woman and my vote to take the place of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

Wilma Mankiller is perhaps best known as being the first woman to serve as an elected chief of an Indian tribe or nation. She served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation for 10 years, working tirelessly to improve education, healthcare, and community development for approximately 300,000 tribal members. The last time she ran for chief, she won with 83% of the vote (she didn’t run a third time due to health issues).

Although born in the Oklahoma Cherokee capital of Tahlequah, her family moved to San Francisco when she was a child. It was an era where Native Americans were encouraged to relocate to urban areas. She became an activist and was one of many who occupied Alcatraz Island in 1969, bringing attention to Native American rights.

Wilma never stopped learning and trying to help native people. When she returned to Oklahoma in 1977, she founded the Community Development Department for the Cherokee Nation to improve community water and housing projects.

Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabekwe)

A graduate of Harvard and Antioch, Winona is an activist who has worked extensively on Native American and environmental issues. She created Honor the Earth, an advocacy group for native environmental groups, and continues to serve as its executive director.

Winona has also been active with the Indigenous Women’s Network, a nonprofit organization addressing domestic violence against Native women. Domestic violence is common in Indian country with 61% of women assaulted during their lifetimes.

The recipient of many awards for service and leadership, Winona was chosen as one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under 40 by Time Magazine in 1994.

Lyda Conley (Wyandot)

Lyda Conley was a lawyer. She was the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar and the first Native American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. Her most well-known case was preventing the sale and development of a Huron cemetery in Kansas, arguing for federal protection. The cemetery, now known as the Wyandot National Burying Ground, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places to preserve the sacred area for cultural and religion reasons.

Maria Tallchief (Osage)

Maria_Tallchief_1961If you’re a classical dance fan, this is another name you might know. Maria was a well-known ballerina, dancing with the New York City Ballet and later founding the Chicago City Ballet. In a field dominated by European dancers, Maria broke through all types of barriers when she began dancing professionally in the 1940s. Her performance in “The Nutcracker” in 1954 was said to transform the show into a holiday classic.

Susan La Flesche Picotte (Omaha)

Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first female Native American doctor in the U.S. As the youngest daughter of Chief Joseph La Flesche, Susan attended white schools off the reservation, but never forgot where she came from. Witnessing the death of a Native American woman because a white doctor refused to treat her influenced her to become a doctor.

After completing medical school at the top of her class and an internship, Susan returned to the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska, working at the government boarding school and treating both Native American and white children. She advocated for clean, well-ventilated conditions to reduce the risks of diseases like tuberculosis, often using her own money for supplies.


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Celebrating Women

Everyday is a day to celebrate women, but we set aside March to spread the word. It’s a wonderful time for stories about women we may not have heard of before. At what other time will you see this happening? NWHP

  • The National Women’s History Project has a goal of “writing women back into history.” The 2016 theme is Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government. This year, 16 women are being recognized.
  • March 8 was International Women’s Day. Women from around the globe are doing amazing things.
  • Anyone who knows me or my writing, knows of my total admiration for the women who broke the barriers of flight, and continue doing so. This week is Women of Aviation Worldwide Week. For six years, this group has raised awareness of aviation opportunities available to girls of all ages while celebrating the accomplishments of past and present women of aviation. One of the many activities is encouraging girls and women throughout the world to try flying in small aircraft. For some, this first flight is the beginning of a lifelong passion for flying.
  • NPR reported that India is inducting its first female fighter pilots. In 2014, India’s air chief marshal had stated that women weren’t suited to military flying. He has now reversed his stance. American women have been allowed to be fighter pilots just since the 1990s. It was one of the last barriers in aviation.
  • One hundred years ago, women were fighting for the right to vote. One of those suffragette’s was Inez Mulholland. Learn more about this fascinating woman and efforts to recognize her at the Inez Mullholland Centennial site.
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Dick and Jane Meet Captain Underpants

I come from the “Dick and Jane” reading generation. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, these were sets of books used to teach children to read. They included the riveting (NOT!) adventures of Dick, Jane, and their dog, Spot.

Nevertheless, if you ask me what the first book I ever read was, I would reply without having to scratch at my memory one bit. It was The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss. I loved reading about “Sally and I,” Little Cat A, and Little Cat B and how they all are faced with the ring in the tub from the infamous Cat in the Hat. That big long pink cat ring that looked like pink ink soon spreads throughout the entire house.

I loved it. When I finished, I read it again. Then I read the prequel, The Cat in the Hat. After that, I proceeded to read 150+ books during my first grade year. I know because we had to keep a list, and my poor mother had to listen to me read them all.

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back started me onto the path of reading. Once I picked up books I enjoyed, I’ve never put them down. To this day, reading remains my favorite activity.

Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was born 112 years ago today. Libraries and schools across America celebrate it, some as National Read Across America Day. What a good time to talk about reading.

Reading should be fun and engaging. If it is, then people won’t hesitate to read other things, even things not as fun or engaging.

However, some people want to dictate what should be read or even available to read. I’m not talking about age suitability issues. And the whole book banning thing deserves its own post. Today, I’m talking about purists who look down their nose at graphic novels or silly or scary books.

Years ago when my oldest child was in elementary school, a book fair was held at his school. The advertising for the book fair showed Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. My son happened to be a big fan of the series at the time. They were just scary enough to keep a nine-year-old’s interest without giving him nightmares.

When he got to the book fair, no Goosebumps books were to be found. I asked. Apparently, the mom in charge of the book fair and the current school librarian deemed the Goosebumps books unsuitable and made an executive decision not to offer them at the book fair. Furious, I took my dollars to a bookstore that allowed me a choice.

At age 6, my middle child had all the mechanics to be a reader without the desire. He could identify any word you pointed out; he just wasn’t putting the words together. His very wise teacher began reading a popular series of books to the kids, Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. The books reminded me of young children telling a joke–they get to a punchline that makes no sense and laugh hysterically. I’m sure people once thought the same of Dr. Seuss.

Captain Underpants ignited a spark in my middle child. Suddenly, he wanted to read and did. Everything. His reading scores eclipsed everything in his standardized testing repertoire.

What does it matter if beginning, emerging, or reluctant readers want to read books about a super hero in underpants or comic books? Isn’t it more important that people learn to read? And wouldn’t it be even better if they enjoyed it?

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss.

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