4 January 2019

Kiwi teacher’s tips for girls who want to succeed in STEM

Linley Boniface

A New Zealand teacher is inspiring girls to get into science and technology – one robot at a time.

At her all-girls school in the South Island city of Christchurch, Linda Chong is helping to create the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) leaders.

Linda encourages girls to take risks in STEM subjects so they won’t miss out on some of the most exciting jobs of the future.

“Students today will go into jobs that don’t necessarily have conventional pathways, and it’s important that they’re not afraid to fail,” says Linda.

As head of the Centre for Innovation at St Margaret’s College, Linda uses technology and innovative thinking to give girls the confidence to take risks in a safe, supportive environment.

In maths, for example, girls apply their knowledge of fractions and decimals to make gardens in Minecraft, a video game that enables players to use blocks to build their own 3D worlds.

When the school decided to introduce robotics into its Year 6 classes (for ages 10-11), girls worked in teams to make endangered animals out of recycled cardboard.

By trial and error, they learned how to programme and connect motors, lights and sensors to their animals.

The girls’ creations included a robotic elephant with flapping ears and flashing eyes, and a whale with a moving tail.

“We do project-based learning in teams because that’s how things are done in the real world. It’s a way to teach skills like creativity, problem-solving, communication and tolerance,” says Linda.

“These girls will go on to have multiple jobs, so they need transferable skills.”

All-girls schools are common in New Zealand, where girls are given the message that they can do anything. 

New Zealand has long been a trailblazer in women’s rights – New Zealand women were the first in the world to win the right to vote, and our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the world’s youngest female leader.

Linda Chong’s top tips for girls

1. Don’t be afraid to fail

You have to fail – and usually more than once – before you achieve what you want to. I tell our girls they won’t succeed till they try something, fail, get feedback and try again.

2. Learn to be a leader

Seize any chances you have to develop your leadership skills. At St Margaret’s, students learn to be leaders by helping run lunchtime and after-school clubs in coding, robotics and other tech subjects.

3. Don’t just stick to the subjects you’re already good at

It’s good to rethink what you do and try something new.

4. Be curious!

Keep an open mind. The way to prepare for a changing world is to be curious, creative and interested in solving problems. I encourage students to be curious and ask questions, and then we work together to find the answer.

5. Grow and develop as a person

As well as learning skills, learn about yourself. Think about how well you work in a team, how you communicate with others, and how tolerant you are.

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About the contributors
Linley Boniface

Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student.