The path to more women in STEM sounds simple enough: introduce the concepts to girls well before they reach ninth grade.
“High school is too late,” said Pius Wong, an engineer, teacher and founder of Pios Labs. “It appears girls make decisions on what they want to do early on. If we can expose them to cool science projects or role models who are mathematicians, scientists and engineers early, that makes a big difference.”
To address this, Wong said both schools and communities need to introduce engineering curricula at a much younger age.
The biggest challenge with that approach is that teachers and parents often aren’t prepared or trained to teach STEM concepts outside of standards-based academic content, Wong said.
“Because a lot of teachers don’t have STEM backgrounds, they don’t know how to accurately bring it into a lesson — so they don’t try to,” said Wong. “But, like engineers, if they can get comfortable with not knowing everything and learn through experimentation, they’ll be okay.”
Wong hopes to help these teachers get over that hump by sharing his own engineering teaching experiences — and the experiences of other industry professionals — through a podcast he’s developed through his company.
It all boils down to: I love engineering, and I think other people should too.”
Called K12 Engineering Education, Wong’s free podcast just wrapped up its 52nd episode and second season. It targets educators, engineers, entrepreneurs and parents interested in getting young people more involved with technology.
“The goal of the podcast is to spread excitement and knowledge about engineering education, especially outside of college,” said Wong.
Each episode features a guest, like a teacher or software developer, who reviews a topic and takes questions from listeners. The most recent episode covered how STEM-focused learning initiatives can help improve underperforming school districts. Some episodes center on teachers who run all-girl engineering classes in middle school; others, how to roll out Python coding classes in middle school.
So who’s listening? Wong said a large portion of his audience consists of hundreds of teachers he trained through the University of Texas’s UTeach program, a STEM initiative taught by UT students. Wong participated in the program for nearly five years while studying robotics before breaking off to develop his own software and education programs.
“This is a way for me to stay connected with the teachers I’ve personally trained,” said Wong. “My intention is to continue the conversations we had in our sessions and address some of the most common questions that would come up.”
In addition to the podcast, Wong has developed a handful of free, online learning tools to help teachers and parents engage their younger students with STEM concepts. He said to be on the lookout for additional tools down the road as well as a SXSW presentation this March.
“It all boils down to: I love engineering, and I think other people should too,” said Wong.