Electronic media has had an increasing prevalence in society over the past 10-15 years with the advent of mobile apps and digital streaming services. When implemented thoughtfully and in moderation, these and other technologies can serve as powerful tools in the STEM learning environment. For young children, media can be used to explore new concepts and experiences that they may not otherwise be exposed to in daily life. For example, simple exposure to videos of underwater life or the frigid landscape of Antarctica can have surprisingly positive effects on young children’s understanding of the world around them. For children of all ages, interaction with media can pique interest in a particular subject, and an increased association of enjoyment with the subject can maximize learning. Active interaction, such as that achieved through apps and games, is also beneficial to learning outcomes. In a 2014 study, active learning techniques were shown to improve test scores by an average of 6% in comparison to traditional lecture style learning. Although this study focused on undergraduate students, similar results, although less dramatic, have been shown in the K-12 classroom. Perhaps one of the most powerful benefits of educational media is its ability to empower parents and teachers to tackle subjects that they may not have expertise in. Whether implemented at home or in the classroom, through T.V. or interactive apps, media tools can add an extra burst of engagement to a STEM lesson.
Although media can have many positive impacts on education, it is important to note a fundamental drawback: the lack of female and diverse representation. Role models are critical to developing and maintaining young girls’ interest in STEM. T.V. and movie characters have great potential to serve as role models, especially when traditional support is lacking in a child’s life; however, current character portrayals fail to positively and accurately depict careers in STEM. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has conducted extensive research on this topic. Only 37% of STEM characters in T.V., film, and streaming are female. The exceeding majority of STEM characters are white (71%), while only 17% are Black. Moreover, STEM characters are rarely featured as leads, but when they are, men are much more likely to be featured. Only 2% of those leads are women of color. Aside from this underrepresentation of women and people of color, media also fails to accurately portray the variety in STEM professions. Gender stereotypes continue to run deep in the narrow portrayal of professions with women primarily being depicted as working in the life sciences and medicine and rarely in traditional engineering. Engineering characters are almost six times more likely to be men. The starkly inaccurate representations in media are critical to be aware of when incorporating media into education. By becoming more aware, we can help bring these blunders to attention, drive change, and be mindful of choosing media with positive representation for our youth.
To help with mindful implementation of educational media, we have outlined a variety of media resources that we feel appropriate.
Watch & Learn with SWENext
The SWENext High School Leadership Academy has developed webinars that are now available on-demand. Topics include everything from professional development to college preparations. For instance, they have: Techniques For Advocating For Yourself, College Considerations, Resumes and Letters of Recommendation, College Essays and The Common Application. Although the webinars can be watched individually, they offer a great way to engage clubs and classrooms in active discussion. This is an excellent resource crafted for girls by girls which can provide a window of mentorship and role modeling in addition to the insightful topics.
Interactive Teaching Tools
Scratch is a free coding tool by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that allows children to create their own interactive stories, animations, and games. The extensive parent and educator guides can help get you started.
PhET Interactive Simulations from the University of Colorado Boulder offers free chemistry, physics, math, and biology simulations. Their interactive platforms are an excellent resource for performing virtual experiments!
PBS has a plethora of educational series. PBS’s Design Squad Global offers hands-on activities paired with informational videos designed for 10- to 13-year-olds. Plum Landing offers environmentally-focused science activities, games, and videos for 6- to 9-year-olds.
STEM in T.V. and Film
“Dream Big: Engineering Our World” celebrates engineers of all ages as they pursue their dreams to innovate better lives for people around the world. This is an excellent documentary for viewing in the classroom or at home. All ages will enjoy.
“Self Made” is a Netflix series inspired by the life of Madam C.J. Walker, a successful Black entrepreneur who founded her own company in 1908 and became the first female self-made millionaire in America. This series sparks an enlightening conversation around racial inequality and is ideal for viewing at home. The series is recommended for high school-aged viewers and up (rated TV-MA).
Use this list to explore many more educational shows and movies.
Like this content? Sign up as an Adult Advocate to receive the monthly Advocacy Newsletter to get STEM education and outreach related content delivered to your inbox.