Igniting girls' interest in science

Tags: Harvard Family Research Project, Activities, Girl Scouts, Washington, DC, informal science programs, Chemistry, Workshops, girls and boys, Missouri Council, experiments, Science Online, college campus, Constance J. Bearnes3, participation, data collection, explanations, Chemistry program, workshop evaluations, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, National Chemistry and National Girl Scout, University of Missouri, scientific notebook, Columbia University, workshop objective, college students, NCES, learning outcome, term interest, Science interest, science enrichment, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, International Activities Division American Chemical Society, learning outcomes, Community Programs, informal programs, Extracurricular Activities, National Science Education Standards, International Activities Division, National Academies Press
Content: EDUCATIONFORUM
PHOTO CREDIT: REBECCA BERGFIELD Downloaded from www.sciencemag.org on March 24, 2008
THE PIPELINE Igniting Girls' Interest in Science Sheryl A. Tucker,1* Deborah L. Hanuscin,2 Constance J. Bearnes3
A partnership between university and Girl Scouts engaged young girls' interests in chemistry.
G irls' interest, participation, and achievement in science decline as they advance in grade levels (1). For example, in fourth grade, the number of girls and boys who like math and science is about the same, but by eighth grade, twice as many boys as girls show an interest in these subjects (2). As the career expectations of eighth-grade students affect actual career outcomes (3), this interest deficit among girls may contribute to the continuing gender gap in science, particularly in terms of labor market outcomes (4). Informal out-of-school programs have been shown to increase girls' interest and participation in science (5­7). Successful programs incorporate hands-on activities, role models, an emphasis on practical applications, and practices that promote equitable learning environments for girls (6, 8) (table S1). Although the research is mixed, single-sex programs can provide a supportive learning environment for girls (6). Unfortunately, girls have fewer out-ofschool science experiences than boys (9, 10), a difference that may account for their lowered interest in school science courses (9, 11). Additionally, girls' (and boys') participation in such programs dwindle during the transition from elementary to middle school, just as girls' interest in science wanes (12). Program Overview "Magic of Chemistry" was created to ignite interest in science among girls during this critical transition period (13) (see figure, right). The program is sponsored by the University of Missouri in partnership with the Girl Scouts­Heart of Missouri Council (8). The program has served more than 2500 girls over the past 10 years. Each year, two identical Saturday workshops for 200 Junior Girl Scouts are organized in conjunction with National Chemistry and National Girl Scout weeks. Three different workshops rotate annually: Case of the Unsigned Letter, Fun with Polymers, and 1Department of Chemistry and Graduate School, University of Missouri (MU), 210 Jesse Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. 2Department of Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum and Department of Physics and Astronomy, MU Science Education Center, 303 Townsend Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. 3Girl Scouts­Heart of Missouri Council, 230 Metro Drive, Jefferson City, MO 65109, USA. *To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]
Chemistry of Color (8). Each utilizesAmerican ence to everyday life. The presence of prepared
Chemical Society materials that reflect Nat- and qualified staff with sufficient knowledge
ional Science Education Standards (14­17), of science is also important to the success of
specifically Standard A: Science as Inquiry. informal science programs (6).
Workshops provide specific questions and
data collection protocols to guide investiga- Program Assessment
tions. The girls formulate explanations from Participants from 10 workshops from 1999
evidence, connect explanations to scientific to 2006 completed postworkshop evalua-
tions, rating the workshop on
four indicators (19). Six of
the 10 program evaluations
included questions about col-
lege and science interest. Re-
sponses were tabulated and per-
centages calculated based on
the total number of completed
evaluations.
Open-ended questions asked
participants to identify what
they learned and liked about
the workshop. Responses were
analyzed using N-Vivo quali-
tative Data analysis software
Members of Troop 511 make "incrediblobs" in the Magic of (QSR International), and codes
Chemistry program.
assigned using low-inference
observation measures. Two sep-
knowledge, and communicate and justify their arate blind analyses of the data were com-
explanations (18).
pleted, and a high degree of interrater agree-
During the 6-hour day, small groups rotate ment (92%) was found. Codes were grouped
through experiments. Each girl is provided into categories based on frequency, and pat-
materials at an individual station, as well as a terns analyzed for themes.
scientific notebook with questions and proto-
cols. The notebook facilitates continuity in Outcomes, Benefits, and Follow-Up
learning, and demonstrations related to each Workshops consistently received top ratings on
experiment reinforce scientific concepts. all indicators (see chart, below). The per-
At each experiment's end,
ceived ease of each workshop
the girls discuss results A and formulate a conclu-
sion as a group.
B
Even though the over-
is consistent with the level
Letter Polymer
of difficulty of each investi-
Color
gation. Case of the Unsigned
Letter contains single-step
all program reflects best C practices (6) (table S1), the
experiments; the other two workshops contain multistep
story line that weaves each D investigation together into
experiments. When surveyed, adults' views mirrored those
a cohesive unit sets Magic of Chemistry apart from other informal science programs that rely on a series of disconnected experiments.The narrative comes
1.0
2.0
3.0
4.0
High
Low
Rating of topic A to D
Summary of workshop evaluations.
Level of A, quality; B, ease; C, interest;
D, necessity. Data points represent the
average score received on the evalua-
of the participants. On average, 81% (range 66 to 88%) of participants wanted, after the workshops, to learn more about science and science careers (see chart,
to life with the assistance tions (n = 1395 girls and n = 232 adults). page 1622, top, and table S2).
of highly trained volun-
Participant interest levels
teers including professional scientists who have may be linked to each workshop's perceived
the ability to help girls see the relevance of sci- difficulty; for example, Chemistry of Color was
www.sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL 319 21 MARCH 2008 Published by AAAS
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EDUCATIONFORUM
Participants (%) Downloaded from www.sciencemag.org on March 24, 2008
evaluated as the most difficult and also gener- more than one workshop; 11% participated in
ated the lowest amount of interest of the three three (table S6). Furthermore, a continuing
workshops (table S2).
interest in science has been
LEARNING OUTCOMES reflect the program's goal of teaching girls
Letter Polymer Color 100
cited as a reason by former participants who later volunteer to help with the program
about science and its 75
(table S7). Other anecdotal
relevance to their daily
support comes from parents
lives. Although the 50
and teachers who have wit-
majority of participants
gave examples of activ-
25
nessed girls displaying a more notable interest in science
ities and experiments
0
(e.g., "doing tie-dye")
Science interest
following participation. Of course, a longitudinal study of
as learning outcomes, Percentages of girls with interest in participants would provide betthey also cited scien- learning more about science and ter evidence of the program's
tific facts and concepts science careers (n = 911).
effectiveness at inspiring a long-
(e.g., "a dye can con-
term interest in science.
tain many different colors" and "carbon diox-
ide is heavier than air"), as well as real-world Portability
applications of science (e.g., "With DNA, you Magic of Chemistry has been successfully
can find out if someone is family.") (see table, adopted at three other institutions of
below, and tables S3 and S4). Beyond these pri- higher education in Missouri and Kansas
mary outcomes, girls also noted learning labo- (22), and the workshops are being used as
ratory techniques (e.g., "I learned how to do a a science enrichment activity for a mixed-
soil analysis") and how to use scientific equip- sex, public Elementary School audience.
ment, a need for girls that has been docu- Portability is facilitated by the use of pro-
mented (20). Although not an explicit learning gram kits (8) and the 3-year workshop
objective, laboratory safety was also a notable cycle. The only real restriction caused by
learning outcome.
adopting the Magic of Chemistry is the age
The "fun" aspects of workshops, the op- group it addresses.
portunity to learn new things, and social inter-
action with peers were all cited as things liked Conclusions
about the workshops (see table, below, and Magic of Chemistry educates young girls
tables S3 and S5). These responses are fre- about science and, more important, encour-
quently cited by youth as reasons for partici- ages their interest in scientific discovery at a
pating in informal learning programs (12). As critical time in their educational development.
such, we feel successful in having met our Informal programs such as this one can help
objective of creating a positive association break down the walls between the formal edu-
with science.
Although important, fun alone is not enough. We also strive to instill in girls a lifelong desire for learning. The number of responses focused on the program's campus location is clear indication that this other primary objective has been met (see table, right, and tables S2 to S5). Besides being able to eat in the
Response categories
Percent of responses
Learned
Activities and experiments
60
Scientific facts and concepts
46
Laboratory techniques
41
Results of experiments
24
Understanding of scientific work
14
campus dining hall, girls liked being able to "see
Real-world applications of science
10
what college is like," "feeling more grown up,"
Safety in the laboratory
5
and interacting with college students. About
Liked
30% of respondents indicated that this was their
Food
52
first visit to a college campus (table S2).
Fun
25
Although encouraging, these results cannot
Learning
25
tell us whether girls who participate in Magic
Experiencing campus life
19
of Chemistry maintain an interest in science.
Social interaction with peers
19
Evaluation of long-term effects is a challenge
Interacting with college students
10
of informal programs (20). Because interest levels have been shown to increase the longer students participate in informal programs (21), some insight, albeit anecdotal, may be gar-
Responses to open-ended questions. Girls were asked to respond to two questions: "What are two things you learned from the Magic of Chemistry activities?" and "What are three things you liked
nered from participation rates in Magic of most about attending a special event at the
Chemistry: About 29% of girls participated in University of Missouri?" (n = 967).
cation system and the students'real life, bringing context to one and insights to the other. References and Notes 1. C. Shakeshaft, Theor. Pract. 34, 74 (1995). 2. Y. Bae, S. Choy, C. Geddes, J. Sable, T. Snyder, "Trends in educational equity of girls and women" [NCES 2000­030, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Washington, DC, 2000]. 3. R. H. Tai, C. Q. Liu, A. V. Maltese, X. Fan, Science 312, 1143 (2006). 4. C. E. Freeman, "Trends in educational equity of girls and women: 2004" (NCES 2005­016, U.S. Department of Education, NCES, Washington, DC, 2004). 5. D. M. Casey, M. N. Ripke, A. C. Huston, in Organized Activities as Contexts of Development: extracurricular activities, After School and Community Programs, J. L. Mahoney, R. W. Larson, J. S. Eccles, Eds. (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, 2005), pp. 65­84. 6. C. Fancsali, M. Froschl, SB&F 32, 99 (2006). 7. P. Campbell, J. Storo, K. Acerbo, Math, Science Sports, and Empowerment: Girls Incorporated Replication and Expansion of the EUREKA! Model (Campbell-Kibler Associates, Groton, MA, 1995). 8. Materials and methods, supporting text, a figure, and tables are available as supporting material on Science Online. 9. S. Farenga, thesis, Columbia University (1995). 10. J. Kahle, L. Parker, L. Rennie, D. Riley, Educ. Psychol. 28, 374 (1993). 11. J. Kahle, in The Equity Equation: Fostering the Advancement of Women in the Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering, C.-S. Davis et al., Eds. (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1996), pp. 57­95. 12. S. Lauver, P. M. D. Little, H. B. Weiss, "Moving beyond the barriers: Attracting and sustaining youth participation in out­of­school time programs" (Harvard Family Research Project, 2004). 13. Magic of Chemistry, http://magicofchemistry.missouri.edu. 14. Kids & Chemistry Hands-On Activities and Demonstrations Guide [Education and International Activities Division American Chemical Society (ACS), Washington, DC, 1988]. 15. Kids & Chemistry Large Event Guide (Education and International Activities Division, ACS, Washington, DC, 1995). 16. Best of WonderScience, vol. 1 (ACS, Delmar Publishers, Albany, NY, 1997). 17. Best of WonderScience, vol. 2 (ACS, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA, 2001). 18. National Research Council, Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for teaching and learning, S. Olson, S. Loucks-Horsley, Eds. (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2000). 19. Participants voluntarily and anonymously completed evaluation surveys, administered by the Girl Scouts­Heart of Missouri Council with parental consent. 20. C. Fancsali, "What we know about girls, STEM, and afterschool programs: A summary" (Educational Equity Concepts, New York, 2003). 21. P. M. D. Little, E. Harris, "A review of out-of-school time program quasi-experimental and experimental evaluation results" (Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA, 2003). 22. Truman State University (TSU) and Hannibal LaGrange College in Missouri and Emporia State University in Kansas. 23. We sincerely thank the reviewers for their constructive and thoughtful comments. They have helped us better demonstrate the significance of the program in a clear and concise manner. We also thank J. L. Atwood and MU's Department of Chemistry without whose support the program would not have been possible; A. E. Moody of TSU for insightful discussions during program development and serving as the first expansion site; M. M. Kroll for editing various drafts of this manuscript; and B. D. Hostetler for assisting with data analysis. Funding was provided by the Dreyfus Foundation, the American Chemical Society, and the National Science Foundation. Supporting Online Material www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/319/5870/1621/DC1 10.1126/science.1153261
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