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March 15, 2019

Lesson Plan: Girl coders crack glass ceiling | STEM Student Reporting Labs

Did you know that less than 25 percent of STEM jobs are held by women? Two programs featuring female coders in this lesson are working to change that statistic and break the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling refers to an invisible barrier that keeps women from achieving success in their chosen career.


Introduction: Students will learn about the engineering design process and use it to address the gender gap in STEM. Based on the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video “College prep center in Kentucky introduces girls to programming, and some lucrative possibilities,”  students will define the parameters of the problem, specify criteria and limitations for solutions to the problem and suggest solutions.


Note: We recognize teachers have a limited time for current events, so you may choose to do just one of the activities below. Feel free to provide students with the resources you may not have gotten to at the end of the lesson.


Estimated time: 30-minutes


Grades: 7-12


Subjects: STEM, Computer Science, Social Studies, English


Essential question: How can we break gender barriers in STEM professions?


Warm up activity: Watch the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video and answer the questions below. 


Produced by Sabrina Bergmann at Hardin County Schools Early College and Career Center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Instruction provided by SRL Connected Educator Belinda Stark and Gina Ryan.


Discussion questions:


  • What does the term glass ceiling mean?

  • Since starting the Shattered Glass Initiative in Kentucky, how has female enrollment in the IT programs changed?

  • What percent of STEM jobs are filled by women in the U.S.?

  • What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of an all-girls IT class?

  • What are the advantages of including more women in STEM careers?

  • Do you know any glass shatterers? Explain. What factors helped them to succeed?


Class activity:


First, go over the steps of the design process below. Make sure to emphasize the cyclic nature of defining the problem, designing solutions and optimizing the solutions.


Main activity: 


This activity will allow students to make connections to key terms in STEM: coding, design process, parameter, quantitative, qualitative.


1. Ask students to discuss with a partner how they might apply the engineering design process to the problem of the gender gap in STEM careers. Students should share their thoughts with the whole class.


2. Have students create a table that highlights three key parts of the engineering design process:


  • define the problem — then get a little more specific, and define the parameters of the problem (parameter = one of a set of measurable factors or limits of a system)

  • specify criteria and limitations for solutions to the problem

  • suggest (design) solutions



3. Next, ask students to write down both qualitative and quantitative parameters to the problem. For example, a qualitative definition of the problem is that women aren’t choosing STEM careers. A quantitative definition is that less than 25 percent of STEM jobs are held by women.


4. Students should then specify parameters of the solutions. Ask students to discuss with partners the criteria and limitations for solutions. Have them consider the following questions:


  • What is our goal? Can we define it using specific terms? What is the time frame for our goal? (For example, 50 percent of STEM jobs should be held by women by 2050.)


  • What are the limitations of a solution? What are we allowed and aren’t allowed to do? (For example, we must adhere to the laws of the country. It would be impossible, unethical and impractical to fire half the STEM workforce and force new, untrained employees to take their positions.)


5. Proposing solutions: With remaining time, have three pairs of students propose their solutions to one another in small groups. The groups should use the parameters described above to decide which solution is best in each group. Students should write a reflection on why they chose a particular solution and present it briefly out loud to the class.


Extension activities


Activity 1: Extension of the engineering design process

You have considered the gender gap in STEM as a problem, defined the problem, and proposed possible solutions. How would you evaluate and improve upon your solution? Write a paragraph explaining how you would evaluate the success of your solution and how this might inform improvements to your solution.


Activity 2: Program planning

Choose and research a STEM career. What are the education requirements? What is the possible range of salaries? What does the day-to-day job look like? Research this information (this is a good place to look) and create a flier to advertise this career to students who might not know about the many different careers in STEM.


Robin Satty is a STEM curriculum consultant in Pittsburgh, Pa., and pursuing her Ed. D in STEM Education at the University of Pittsburgh. She has taught chemistry, biology and general science at the middle and high school levels. Her background is in biology where she holds a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s in ecology and evolutionary biology from Brown University.


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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Next Generation Science Standards


      Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

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