How tech heavyweights are engaging girls in STEM

"Girls Who Game" curriculum developed to make STEM more relevant for fourth- through eighth-grade girls

Girls are building the communities of the future on Minecraft in a new after-school program developed by a group of tech heavyweights to increase diversity in STEM.

The “Girls Who Game” curriculum has been crafted make STEM more relevant to the lives of fourth- through eighth-grade girls, particularly students who come from underrepresented communities, the program’s creators say.

In Austin ISD, math teacher Christopher Derasmo launched “Girls Who Game” with a group of a dozen fourth-graders who researched hunger, green energy, water use and other issues to design the eateries of the future on Minecraft.

“It’s really showing the girls how STEM can apply to them later in life,” Derasmo says. “It has been pretty fascinating watching their creativity, their innovations and their collaboration with each other.”

Devices, software and the curriculum are provided to schools by Dell and Microsoft. The companies also provide professional development for teachers. In Austin ISD and other districts that adopted the program, those ed-tech resources are augmented by the participation of local mentors, such as female engineers who are now redesigning the city’s highway system.

Derasmo’s students, working in three teams, presented their final projects in five-minute video clips. During the final months of the school year, the girls will design the community of the future.

“If the girls weren’t interested in STEM fields, this really opened their eyes to, ‘Hey, maybe I’m not the best math student or I don’t know all science facts, but that’s OK,'” Derasmo says. “In the big picture, STEM is all about problem-solving.”

Engaging girls in esports

“Girls Who Game” is also designed build students’ self-efficacy, self-esteem and leadership skills as they form a community of learners, says Leslie Harlien, the vice president of public business development and strategy at Dell Technologies.

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The program focuses on middle school because if students aren’t interested in STEM by ninth grade, the chance of them pursuing it as a career drops sharply, Harlien says.

With the number of female student entering STEM fields on a decline, the mentorship is a critical aspect of “Girls Who Game,” she says.

“When we look at the industry, we have found that 60% of women who know women in the industry feel more empowered,” Harlien says. “If they can see it they can be it.”

The program is now also branching into esports as educators seeing growing interest from female students and more colleges offering scholarships in competitive video-gaming.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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