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Grade 6 STEM Students Explore Representation in STEM Careers

Last month, Ms. Hanna’s and Mr. Sosky’s Grade 6 STEM students participated in a variety of hands-on, interactive activities related to Black History Month. One focus of their work was examining the historic underrepresentation of minority groups in STEM careers—particularly women and people of color.

The students began their deep dive into STEM history by watching Hidden Figures, a movie depicting the true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson: three African-American women made it possible to launch John Glenn into space in 1962.

Ms. Hanna explained, “Mr. Sosky and I agreed that watching Hidden Figures fit well for MLK Day and also had a STEM focus. Although it is a historical account of what occurred during the 1960s, I can verify that some of the same things were still happening in the 1990s when I was employed in the technology field...We talked about what that felt like and some students were surprised that people actually were treated differently because of their color or gender.”

After the movie and discussion, students participated in an activity called “STEM by the Numbers” (from learningforjustice.org), which provided real-world data for students to analyze and interpret, so they could better understand the actual discrepancy between the number of White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian people in STEM careers versus employment in other careers. 

Ms. Hanna said, “I selected the activity ‘STEM by the Numbers’ because it had several charts and tables that we were able to study, interpret and discuss. The charts made it clear that People of Color and women are underrepresented in STEM careers... We discussed why this might be. I wanted the students to think about why things are the way they are today. We discussed what the world misses when not everyone is represented in an industry.”  

Finally, students finished the unit by writing a letter to a STEM student (either real or fictional) who believed that they were not well-suited to a STEM career. The goal of the letter was to explain the benefits of working in the field and to encourage students to be more open to the idea.

Ultimately, Ms. Hanna describes student participation saying, “They were amazing! I wanted the students to realize that each one of them can make a difference, even though they are young. I was impressed and humbled by their words, which showed such sensitivity, insight, and empathy.”

Ms. Hanna shared some of her students’ responses to the prompt "We need a more diverse group of people working in STEM because” below:

  • “Everyone has different memories and thoughts. Someone could be very creative and another person could be artistic. If you were making a game you would need both of those people.”
     
  • “We need to show people that anyone can be anything. We also need to do it because different people have different ideas/skills.”
     
  • “People think differently, and it will inspire others.”
     
  • “Diverse people have diverse thoughts and will improve the results of the projects.”
     
  • “You can help people like you have hope that they can do the same thing.”