Charles R. Twardy

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STEM appeal

ADSEI’s Linda McIver on swapping toy problems for real ones:

❝   I shifted the subject … teaching the same skills, but now in the context of real datasets, and problems with meaning … Now they were exclaiming over how useful the skills were. … solving problems that did not have a textbook solution, so they had to test and verify their solutions. …

The next year we doubled the number of girls choosing to study the year 11 computer science subject, but we also dramatically increased the number of boys.

(My emphasis.)


Mainly I wanted to emphasize that this sensible intervention increased boys’ participation as well as girls’.

The take-home seems to be “the reason we haven’t seen [more] progress is that we’ve been teaching it badly”. And that this can be fixed by using real, relevant problems.

Also using STEM is somewhat misleading. Without claiming success, of course women have made notable progress in STEM. But far far less in computer/data science. Which, as McIver notes, has repelled many men as well as women.

If McIver is right, teaching real and relevant problems will stop artificially repelling qualified people.

On progress

  • Forbes 2017: women were 53% of Bachelor’s degree recipients in science, engineering and math. That’s progress. But women were only 16% (!) of computer science degrees.
  • US Census bureau 2021 figure below. Note:
    • “Social science accounted for only 3% of STEM occupations,” so that line not as good as it looks.
    • Women % in computers declined from 1990.

Women making gains in stem occupations but still underrepresented figure 1