Storytelling in Science: Using Fiction to Engage Girls in STEM

The following is a guest post from Michelle Manno, an Associate Editor at Teach.com, where she writes about education reform, disability advocacy, and pop culture pedagogy. 

Scientific American recently investigated the connection between STEM and the humanities in the classroom, discussing how their integration is crucial in engaging girls and young women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Studies found that while women scored higher than men on both the math and verbal portions of SAT tests, they were less likely to pursue STEM careers. The summary of these findings argue that proponents of STEM initiatives -  including educators and policy-makers -  need to take advantage of these strong verbal skills when strengthening girlsscience and math abilities.

Tapping into this dual potential will increase the amount of women in STEM-related careers -- but what does this mean for the classroom?

The sum of Scientific Americans findings suggests that by integrating literature across content areas, especially in areas focused on STEM, female students will find the material more engaging. Teaching STEM through the lens of literature - whether fiction or nonfiction - allows them to view the material as relevant and meaningful.

Making STEM meaningful is addressed in PBS SciGirls Seven: Proven Strategies for Engaging Girls in STEM. These standards address the research-based strategies found to motivate and engage young girls in science, technology, engineering, and math. The following strategy addresses this integration of literature and science: Girls become motivated when they feel their project or task is important and can make a difference. Support them using STEM as a tool to explore issues or topics they care about. If they see how STEM is relevant to their own lives and interests, their attraction to these subjects is likely to increase.

Aligning works of literature and student interests to STEM fields allows educators and policy-makers to meet the needs and potential of young girls. An excellent resource for aligning fiction and student interests in STEM is Suzanne Collinsscience fiction trilogy The Hunger Games. Now a multi-million dollar movie franchise, The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 15-year old girl who lives in Panem, a dystopian post-apocalyptic society in North America. While The Hunger Games is science fiction, the content of the trilogy is inspired by scientific concepts, featuring teachable moments across the fields of STEM. By incorporating Collinssci fi trilogy into classroom curriculum, young girls are engaged and motivated to learn about science through one of their favorite books! Aside from The Hunger GamesSTEM-related content, young girls identify with Katniss, the storys strong young protagonist. While using science fiction is an important teaching tool for science, providing books that feature strong female characters is also extremely beneficial. SciGirls Seven addresses the importance of positive mentors for young girls and women, and Katniss Everdeen provides young girls with a strong and powerful role model while learning about topics including genetics, probability, and climate control.

Teach.com has teamed up with The Hunger Games Lesson Tracee Orman to create Sparking Their Interest: Engaging Students with “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, a guide for teachers that provides educators with Common Core-aligned classroom activities and lesson plans that use The Hunger Games to teach across content areas. Teaching STEM through the lens of science fiction captures the attention of young girls who are equally gifted in both math and verbal skills. “Sparking Their Interest” addresses this important intersection between literature and STEM, weaving fiction and storytelling into the science and math classrooms to engage young girls and tap into the educational potential of the trilogy.

Check out the guide to see how Tracee Orman uses The Hunger Games to teach students across content areas.

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