Research tells us that there is a very significant loss of interest in STEM among middle-school girls. A recent study by researchers at Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Colorado, for example, found that many girls who take advanced science courses in middle school do not continue to study science in high school.
For the past two years, passionate and enthusiastic Smithies have been volunteering for events aimed at changing that trend. One of them is the annual Geek Is Glam STEM Expo hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts.
At this year’s all-day expo in Worcester, Mass., on October 17, a team of Smith students presented eight workshops for the 450 girls in grades 4-8 participating in the event.
Tom Gralinski, science outreach coordinator for Smith’s Center for Community Collaboration and the Clark Science Center, worked with the teams to prepare activities and materials, while the STEM Education Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst provided supplies.
The Smith STEM ambassadors mentored Girl Scouts in sessions titled “Edible Plant and Animal Cell Structures; Engineering Design: Making Flashlights; Exploring Properties of Rocks and Minerals; Engineering Design; and Balloon-Powered Cars.”
The Smithies got involved in the Geek Is Glam event for a number of reasons. Some are longtime Girl Scout members, others enjoy working with children, and still others were looking for ways to explore science education.
Here’s what a few of them had to say about what they gained from participating in the daylong training.
Ha Phuong ’19: “Geek Is Glam was a great opportunity for me to learn more about science education, which has been my interest since high school. I had the chance to make use of the science I’ve learned at school and explain that knowledge to the Girl Scouts. Science, when standing alone, seems to be very dry. But when you combine it within projects that involve balloons, cookies and frosting, suddenly it becomes so easy to understand and remember. When children are excited about what they’re learning, they’ll learn better. As a student coming from Vietnam, where there are no interesting projects like this for kids, I really hope that when I go back to my country I can apply the same science teaching methods there.”
Nanami Kono ’17: “I started doing science outreach at Smith because I was interested in becoming a biology teacher and wanted experience teaching science to children. Over time, I learned about good teaching practice for science education, engaging children with hands-on science activities, and understanding my strengths and weaknesses.”
Eliana Perlmutter ’16: “I had gone to a STEM camp for girls at Worcester Polytechnic Institute when I was in middle school, and I think it really helped me gain confidence in my science abilities and put me in an environment where I was with mentors, role models and other girls my age who liked science. I was amazed and heartened by the excitement that the girls at the expo had for rocks and science. One girl pulled a rock set out of her backpack and others were talking about buttes and mesas—geologic features I only learned about in college. My favorite part was seeing the students explore the questions themselves and helping them talk through their observations. I knew it had been a good workshop when the feedback we got from the girls was to bring even more rocks next time!”