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My Advanced Placement computer science course is half girls and half boys. I coach an award-winning robotics team, Retro5ive, that is equally balanced between girls and boys, nearly all of whom are students of color.
Getting there requires combating gender norms and stereotypes every day. This fall, while conducting a two-week Tools and Build module with the robotics team, I held up a pop rivet gun and asked students what it was. Here’s a recap of an exchange between me, a boy who was learning about the team, and a few girls on the team.
Boy: “Well, do you know what the tool is?”
Me: “Of course. I’m the one who is teaching this to you.”
Boy: “Where’s the coach?”
Girls: “She’s the coach.”
Boy: “But you’re a woman.”
Me: “I know.”
Boy: “You’re the coach? I thought you might teach us the coding because I know you teach computer science. But you’re going to teach us how to build the robot?”
To me, this was an example of how much power educators have to shape what students perceive as normal. Gender stereotypes, a lack of role models, and unequal access to STEM courses and activities all play a role in keeping women and people of color out of fields like physics, computer science, and robotics. That’s why it’s so important for me to show my students that there are no limits to what they can achieve.
Terry Ann Laesser is a teacher at Melvindale High School in Melvindale-Northern Allen Park Schools in Michigan. She teaches physical science, robotics, and AP computer science, and coaches the school’s robotics team and its newly formed drones team. In 2021, Laesser was named to the STEM Hall of Femme, and she was one of 10 educators nationwide selected to receive an Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award.