Empowering Girls to Explore the World of STEAM

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day (June 23), we’re highlighting Jill Johnson, a STEM Education Professional in Orlando, Florida, about the work she is doing to support girls in exploring STEAM and engineering.

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Engaging young girls to discover STEAM

It is important to expose girls from an early age to STEAM concepts and introduce them to fields where they may be less likely to see other women. When I was growing up, I did not know of women in science, engineering, or technology. If I had seen someone who looked like me model and show that a STEAM career was a possibility, I would have followed my passion earlier in life.

Working as a STEM resource teacher, I observed that many of the younger girls are naturally interested in STEAM. They want to learn about the world and get creative with engineering challenges and inventions. However, around third or fourth grade, peer pressure kicks in and they tend to start caring more about what others are thinking or saying about them. They might start changing what they like because their friend likes something different, and they want to feel included.

To help create a sense of community and sisterhood for those interested in exploring coding, we started a Girls Who Code club last year for students in grades 3-5. We had an overwhelming number of students interested that required us to enact a waitlist. After splitting the club into fall and spring sessions to accommodate the number of students, we have welcomed close to 80 students in our school's after school club.

Each week we discuss our learning goal and upcoming events for the club. Some girls just took off and saw this whole outside world of potential of what they could do and what they're good at. Whether it's giving them a coding challenge or using the LEGO® Education SPIKE Essential kits to create something, they were able to experience just how easy it is to code and understand the basics. Sometimes our weekly objective doesn't even involve a device, like when we learn about binary language and we make beaded bracelets spelling our names in the coded language. There is so much potential for students to find their interests because there are so many facets in which coding and computer science can be found.

Exploring STEAM career pathways

I loved the LEGO Education Career Toolkit featuring STEAM professionals because it showed individuals from all walks of life, and careers, and highlighted STEAM concepts in a meaningful way. From ocean advocacy, to race car driving, to dance technology – all of these careers involved computer science, but they also included their passions, talents, and strengths. In the videos of these professionals, you could feel their passion coming through and that's what drew my students in.

One student told me she wanted to be a lawyer, work with the ocean, and wanted to do something with computers. I told her she could do all of that. She asked, “What do you mean? I have to pick one.” I replied, “Absolutely not. Don't you think the world could use someone who knows the law, is passionate about the ocean, and uses computer science?” I saw her realize that she doesn’t have to paint herself into one box and can decide and create what she wants to be. That's the beauty behind using LEGO Education solutions and understanding how coding connects to STEAM skills. Students are artists - they get to invent and create what they want in this world. Whether it's an app or a piece of art or a song. I find that so exciting because it's literally whatever my students want to create.

Connecting with real-world concepts

This year we spent five to six weeks on our ocean projects which we tied in with Earth Day and an ocean art night at our school. The girls researched and found solutions to problems facing our ocean in the real world, which included overfishing, marine debris, and climate change. Second to fifth grade students worked in groups to plan their idea and then built it with their SPIKE Essential kits. They coded their solution and were able to show different actions with their builds.

It was phenomenal to see students think and communicate about real-world concepts and actually address them. They were researching, engineering, and then coding to demonstrate what their solution would look like. We gave students a chance to present their projects to each other so they could ask questions and talk about improvements they wanted to make. We displayed their creations at our arts night at school and it was wonderful because they felt proud of their work, and I felt very proud of all of them.

Doing these projects has helped my students understand that coding and engineering really is for anyone and everyone. It’s been incredible to see how they’ve changed their perceptions on how they see themselves pursuing STEAM interests and careers.

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About Jill

Jillian Johnson is a STEM Education Professional in Orlando, Florida. With over ten years of teaching experience, she earned a master’s degree from the University of Central Florida in Instructional Design and Educational Technology. Jill was named Curriculum Associates Extraordinary Educator 2022 and a LEGO Education Ambassador for 2024. She has participated in global webinars, expert panels, and educational podcasts with companies such as Tech & Learning, Curriculum Associates, Symbaloo, and LEGO Education.

Find Jill on social media:
X: @JillJohnsonSTEM
Instagram: @jilljohnsonstem