A gender imbalance exists in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Maths anxiety affects more girls than boys, can be seen as early as primary school and impacts girls’ performance in maths tests. In addition, stereotypes and cultural bias can affect girls’ attitude towards STEM, limit their confidence and belief in their abilities and therefore undermine their interest and performance in these subjects. Sadly, women are still underrepresented in STEM subjects at college and in employment, with only 25% of STEM jobs in the US held by women.
SHINE for Girls is an after-school programme founded in the US, combining formal dance training with mathematic instruction to help young girls become confident and capable mathematicians. The programme is based on the idea that every girl is good at maths – they just might not know it yet.
SHINE for Girls follows a multi-level mathematics curriculum, which covers all of the national maths standards for middle school in the US, at a pace that is right for the students. Rather than sitting and listening to instruction, each topic is introduced through kinaesthetic learning activities, designed to teach the concepts in a new way and excite the girls about the material. Movement is used to make more abstract mathematical concepts become tangible through physicality and the kinaesthetic approach also develops muscle memory, helping the students to remember more of what they have learned.
To complement the maths learning and provide added motivation, SHINE for Girls includes formal dance training sessions, in which the girls learn technical dance moves and choreograph a dance to be performed for their teachers and family. This boosts confidence and teamwork skills, while physical activity helps to increase concentration and mental performance in the classroom. Through combining dance and maths, SHINE for Girls hopes to change not only the way girls view maths, but the way they view themselves. Self-confidence, discipline and teamwork developed through performance arts help students to thrive socially and emotionally, and this can translate to success in all fields.
Although many of the girls come to the programme because they are struggling with maths or self-esteem, the sessions do not focus on easy problems or simplified solutions. Rather, girls work in teams to solve tough challenges, showing determination and setting high expectations of themselves to boost morale and self-esteem. Team problem-solving sessions are led by a mentor, who can be a female STEM university student or a school student who has graduated from the SHINE for Girls programme. The mentors help to create a sense of community and encouragement and also provide the girls with inspirational role models in the field of STEM.
SHINE for Girls was founded by Kirin Sinha, an MIT graduate who set up the programme after the experience of regularly being the only female in her university maths classes.