Big Ideas at NCGS: From STEM to STEAM

ncgs-2015-logo-vertical-227This week I was attended the National Coalition of Girls Schools conference in Richmond, VA. Richmond in the summer is like New Orleans in the spring: warm (but not hot!) with low humidity. So beautiful. St. Catherine’s 125 year old campus, where the conference was held, is gorgeous.  It is historical and modern at the same time and is one of those spaces that makes you want to sit outside and discuss great literature (or in this case, girls’ education) with some friends. In other words, it’s one of those places that makes you want to learn.

The theme of this year’s conference was “From STEM to STEAM: Girls’ Schools Leading the Way” and there were some big ideas being thrown around.  I’m going to share some ideas from the sessions that I attended, but I think my favorite part was traveling with colleagues and hearing about the sessions they attended.  We were able to bounce ideas off of one another and really deepen our understanding of each these concepts.

One of the keynote speakers was Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. I helped lead a cohort of the GWC club this year at school, so I was familiar with Saujani and her work, but I had no idea she was such an engaging speaker. Supported by staggering statistics about women and girls in STEM fields, she was able to both alarm and encourage attendees about the dismal rates of girls entering STEM fields. “It’s not that girls need math and science, it’s that math and science needs girls” was a popular line from her presentation.

Another speaker that resonated with me was Ana Homayoun, Founder of Green Ivy Educational Consulting and Author of The Myth of the Perfect Girl.  She began her career as a learning specialist, helping adolescents learn to organize and manage their time. What she quickly learned was that their biggest struggles came from social media. She began researching adolescent use of social media and found some interesting trends, which she now shares with schools and parent groups. Her message was not fear-based, which I appreciate. Instead, she encourages girls to make positive choices about their lives and their time. Does this app or activity add to your enjoyment of life? Does it make you happy? If not, then what are some other choices that might? This is an important conversation to have with adolescents and with adults.

Another of my favorite sessions was given by Anne Rubin and Donna Daigle from Miss Hall’s School in Massachusetts. Annie and I have become Twitter friends over the last year and I was excited to finally meet her. Not surprisingly, her session topic was as thoughtful engaging as she is. She and Donna had won a grant from the E. E. Ford Foundation to develop a new professional learning community at their school that would impact the culture of the school and ultimately contribute to developing leadership in students. They paired teachers together from different departments to support one another on a learning project. Over the course of two years, they began to break down the walls between departments in a way that was visible to students. Rather than “English teachers” or “Science teachers,” they were learners, just like the students. The teachers present said that going through the process had transformed, not just their professional relationships, but their teaching as well.

In her keynote, Reshma Sujani mentioned that girls and women are often less likely to speak up or to promote themselves. She said that, while boys may be happy to quickly jot down a series of half-formed ideas, girls tend to agonize over details, striving for perfection that may never come. (I know that is a struggle for me with this blog!)  But perhaps pushing our amazing girls to promote themselves and connect with one another, just as so many teachers and administrators did this week, would be the first step in creating the supportive community of peers that they need. There is power in numbers, but if our we don’t connect and help our students to connect, they may not realize those numbers are out there.

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