Girls and Science

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

This week I was able to go into a lot of classrooms and teach science. It was magnificent seeing so many students having fun with science. They saying things like, “Science is awesome,” and “Science is my favorite subject”. These students had true smiles on their faces and enjoying learning which is every teachers dream.

But I was thrown off guard when a little girl wasn’t having a lot of fun. Of course I zoomed in on her and her giraffe. (Students were making giraffes out of clay to show how we need bones, as the clay wouldn’t stay up without bones. They would then add “bones” by adding toothpicks so the giraffes would stay up.) “Wow, I love your giraffe! Isn’t science fun, I love science,” I said enthusiastically as I watched her write her observations into her science journal. Her unpredictable response was, “Its okay, girls can’t really do science.” I was stunned. Who thought like this in the 21st century? Girls can do anything, forget that, no matter who you are you can do anything that you put your mind too. Of course, I got defensive to this little third grader and said a string of things such as, “Girls can be scientists, look at me, I am a girl and a scientist. Look at your classmates, they are all scientists. Anyone can be scientists.” She looked at me like I had ten heads and didn’t respond, not even a smile. I sadly, walked away and helped a few students that were calling me. Science was over so I left the classroom as they moved onto math but I continued to think about this little girls comment. How many other girls, still though like this? I knew this was a problem when I first started teaching but I really though that we had got past this stereotype.

Let’s flashback to me in high school, I HATED science. I thought it was a waste of time. I could care less about where rocks came from or what cloud type was in the sky. I didn’t think girls should do science. Not until college did I think science was okay and that girls could do it because it was my first real exposure to a female scientist. Then I was forced to really learn science due to the fact it became a “tested” subject. (Wow, look at that, something good came out of testing!) I took every class I could possibly take to learn the curriculum. It wasn’t until I took a graduate class on ‘Teaching Science in Elementary School’ that made me realize, I really liked science.

My first year, I taught science and I always heard girls say, “Science isn’t something that girls should do. Or Science is hard.” This is when my passion for science kicked in. I was determined to change these girl’s minds and get them to realize they could do anything. I started teaching Camp Invention and making sure I taught hands-on science all the time.

I became an advocate for science and inquiry learning. I needed to get other teachers on board. I started small by teaching teachers how to use science notebooking and getting them to buy into its importance on my grade level. I started directing Camp Invention (http://www.invent.org/camp/default.aspx) at my school. My first year we had over a 110 students sign up, awesome I thought, students loved science. But when I looked at the ratio of our numbers there were only 20 girls. The following year our numbers grew and we had 120- 30 were girls. I decided to start coaching Science Olympiad during the school year. The first year only a few girls signed up but the next year we had a few more. Girls were starting to participate in science during class time more and more as well. We were making progress. The next year, we had had two weeks of Camp Invention because so many students signed up. Out of the two weeks, only one of the weeks we had ½ of our total participants were girls. This past summer we had the same amount of boys, as we did girls, both weeks of camp! I felt that girls were learning they could “do” science; after all the data was proving that from the interest in Camp Invention and Science Olympiad.

Then why was this student still thinking that girls couldn’t do science? I started thinking about what I could do to help promote science for girls. What female scientists did I know of, I couldn’t I think of any right away!! I decided this weekend to research girls and science. I wanted to make sure we were moving forward and that I was doing my part as an educator to help all students, including girls, love science. I created a link on my website called, “Science for Girls” to help provide girls with science sites that are girl friendly, positive and encouraging. I became conscious I need to continue to be an advocate as my “job” was not done. http://jillthompson.cmswiki.wikispaces.net/Science+for+Girls%21 As much as I have helped improve students love for science, I realized I still have a long way to go. I’m glad that this little girl brought this problem, back to my attention.

“If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off. . . no matter what they say.” Barbara McClintock (American Scientist. Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1983.

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Comments on: "Girls and Science" (1)

  1. Well said Jill! Overall, I see more girls remaining excited about science in grades K-5 thanks to efforts such as yours to get all students involved in STEM activities like Science Olympiad, Camp Invention, Science Fair, and Robotics. Progress, not perfection! We are making progress, but as your example with the one girl shows, we need to continue to reflect on our teaching practice and how what we do impacts student learning and also students’ attitudes toward science.

    Wayne Fisher
    Elementary Science Specialist

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