St Catherine’s School: Girls in STEM

St Catherine’s School in Sydney is working to address the significant gender gap in the number of women graduating with STEM-based degrees, which currently sits at only 16 per cent according to a report from the Office of the Chief Scientist.

The School has been accessing the Creatable program designed by FINCH, a company of film-makers, artists and engineers working at the crossroads of storytelling, technology and entertainment.

Creatable allows Years 9 and 10 Design and Technology students to be immersed in hands-on technology projects designed to fire-up their own ideas.

These 15 and 16-year-olds are encouraged to tinker, innovate, design and then create.

The girls begin the program by tackling an ever-pressing problem, how to take the perfect selfie? They design and then 3D-print a ‘selfie ring’ to attach to their phones which illuminates with the right amount of light to get the perfect shot. They move on to build their technical and coding skills by working on programmable robot buggies.

Building confidence is central to the Creatable program. When attempting a new skill, such as soldering for instance, the thing the engineers at FINCH hear most from girls is “I can’t do this.” They internalise their frustration.

However boys attempting the same thing will blame something outside themselves – they externalise. Boys will relish the challenge more whereas girls tend to give up, blaming their own lack of capability. Girls tend to be concerned with perfectionism and that is the enemy of innovation.

“So we say to them be brave, not perfect,” said Greg Attwells, the course designer and facilitator. “We want girls to have the confidence to shape their own futures. Their 21st century skills will be problem solving, critical thinking and creative thinking. This is what we are giving them the confidence to do.

“We take students through the creative process by helping them investigate everyday problems. We ask them ‘What bothers you?’ It might be plastic which has led one student to design a sorting bin with sensors, one for plastic, one for general waste. One student likes to cook but is bothered by the pasta water splashing her. Her idea? A pasta pouch that stops the splashes. We get them to ideate, pitch, design then rapidly prototype their ideas. We don’t teach innovation as an end product, we teach it as a creative process,” explained Mr Attwells.

The girls are taken back to basics where being creative is inherently linked to simply being human. “By teaching young women how to channel their creativity through technology, we are giving them a platform to realise their potential,” added Greg. “We are mid-way through the program and already there is a big difference in their confidence.”

St Catherine’s is the only girls’ schools in the eastern suburbs of Sydney offering Engineering Studies for HSC. The School’s dynamic robotics club, St Cathodes, is gearing up for its third year in the First Robotics Competition – one of the major robotics competitions for high school students in the world.

The junior school also has a Tech Girls club which is hugely popular, as is the after school STEM club. The School explained that is clear girls are interested in technology from an early age, the challenge is to continue to build their confidence in STEM so they can match the boys in taking on STEM careers.

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