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How to Increase Equity in STEAM Through Media Making

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Engineering for Good challenge and STEAM Symposium graphics

Representation and equity in STEAM matters. In June 2020, Malone Mukwende, a medical student in London, announced a handbook he developed for diagnosing conditions in Black and Brown skin. He created it because he couldn’t find examples of darker skin in clinical manuals. The lack of representation of darker skinned people, along with other systemic issues in the medical system and society in general, has contributed to poorer health outcomes for Black and Brown people.

Malone’s unique perspective gave way to an innovation that will improve physician training to serve patients with a wider range of skin colors. Spotlighting the brilliance and work of changemakers of color (and other underrepresented groups) in STEAM fields is an important first step towards allowing students to imagine themselves as scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

As STEAM educators, we can do this by choosing media that feature people who are from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in STEAM fields. The Physics Girl series can be used to highlight a woman in the physical sciences. If you’re a biology teacher who is discussing cell division with students, you can supplement your textbook with excerpts from the book or movie, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about the young African American woman whose cell line has been used for science research for decades without her or her family’s knowledge. You may use videos that feature a host or producer of color like Above the Noise or Crash Course Physics. In addition to ensuring students see examples of people in STEAM who share some of the same identities, we need to also give young people opportunities to engage in meaningful work in these fields.

Our students need to literally see themselves in STEAM, and others need to see them, too.

Hands-on project-based learning in school allows students to develop the habits of mind and gain the knowledge, skills and confidence that will build their science identities and give them access to careers in STEAM. To change perceptions on a broader level about who can be a STEAM professional, our students need to literally see themselves in STEAM, and others need to see them, too. Educators can take hands-on learning a step further and give their students the chance to produce videos, audio pieces, graphics and other multi-media that feature themselves as scientists, engineers and mathematicians.


One opportunity for students to share their scientific thinking through creating media for a public audience is with KQED Learn’s Engineering for Good Youth Media Challenge. This challenge gives middle and high school students the opportunity to show off their creative problem solving skills through the engineering design process, and present their solutions via a media making project. These student media projects are then published on a national online showcase. Collectively, media highlighting young people from diverse backgrounds engaged in STEAM, each with their unique and important perspectives, can push people’s assumptions about who can and should pursue careers in STEAM.

Join us at the California STEAM Symposium to learn more about increasing equity in STEAM.

If you want to learn more about the Engineering for Good youth media challenge and about increasing equity in STEAM, join us at the California STEAM Symposium, December 11-13. This virtual conference provides excellent peer-led professional learning highlighting ideas, strategies and innovations that work for all students with the goal of advancing STEAM equity in all learning environments.  And Dianna Cowern, aka “Physics Girl,” is one of the keynote speakers! Come to one of our sessions and get ideas on how to incorporate media making into your STEAM classroom to support access and equity:

Amplify Student Voice Through the Engineering Design Process (Dec. 11 at 3pm PT)
Civic Learning in Chemistry: Designing the Local Bus Routes (Dec. 12 at 9:20am PT)
Showcase Learning in the STEAM Classroom with Podcasting (Dec. 13 at 10:50am PT)

Register and see the full agenda at steamcalifornia.org. Use code KQEDFRIEND for $20 off registration.

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