Program is calculated to get more girls into math and science
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The joy of learning science is clear to Petey Bruni, an eighth-grader at St. Thomas More School in Bethel Park.
"I just like discovery. For every question, there's an answer," she said. Petey's science project on tiny sea organisms recently won a regional science fair prize.
The Girls, Math & Science Partnership has ideas on how parents can help to encourage their daughters in science and math. The partnership also is planning parent training for the fall. More information is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Girls, Math and Science Partnership, a program of the Carnegie Science Center, wants more girls to develop a love of science and math.
So the partnership yesterday unveiled its new "gender equity toolkit," called The Girl Solution, aimed at reducing the gender gap in math and science. The kit is intended for schools, after-school programs, community centers, girl-serving agencies and homes.
The message on the pink T-shirts worn by Petey and other members of the group's teen team emphasized what could happen to girls in science and math: "You just might change the world."
Jennifer Stancil, executive director of the partnership, said, "It's important because we have a world that has challenges in its future that science and technology can solve. We should have both boys and girls sitting at the table to solve those problems.
"It's been known for some time that girls are engaged up until the fourth grade and then they begin to experience the pressures that systemically draw them away from science," she said, noting pressures ranging from a lack of role models to trying to play dumb to impress boys.
One national study noted that the percentage of girls who like science falls from 66 percent in fourth grade to 47 percent in eighth grade and remains nearly stagnant at 48 percent by 12th grade.
The partnership believes that can be changed by taking advantage of the ways girls learn best.
For example, information in the toolkit notes: "Girls think about changing the world and human condition at very young ages. Solutions around these themes motivate them."
Suggestions include emphasizing science as a tool to improve the human condition or as the language of human progress.
Some of the other ways:
Working in groups will permit discussion to help girls to connect their ideas.
Multidisciplinary approaches, like combining science and art, play to the way girls' brains are structured.
Limiting note-taking can help because girls get so engrossed in taking notes they can miss some of the discussion.
Hands-on experiences -- including using simple tools like magnifying glasses and rulers -- keep science in the real world.
High expectations and role models help girls realize science and math can be for them.
Girls need to be able to take risks, whether they succeed or not, so they can develop confidence.
Girls need to be engaged in science and math outside of school.
This can be good for boys, too.
"Gender equity helps everyone elevate their game," said Ms. Stancil.
Carlow University President Mary Hines, who spoke at the announcement at the science center yesterday, said two of the biggest influences are teachers and society.
Girls in the partnership's teen team could see how the ideas could work.
Chrissy McGinn, a seventh-grader at Sewickley Academy, agrees that girls like to work in groups. Chrissy, who is headed to the National Science Olympiad next week with her school team, wants to be an astronomer, chemist or forensic scientist.
Nicole Sharkey, a sophomore at the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, is majoring in literary arts but is interested in technology.
"I really like the whole idea of being able to change society as a whole," Nicole said.
In 1999, the partnership began working with The Heinz Endowments, Alcoa Foundation and Family Communications Inc. Two years ago, the partnership introduced a Web site for girls at www.braincake.org. The site receives more than a million visits a year.
The toolkit was supported by a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Research was done with $250,000 from The Heinz Endowments and the Alcoa Foundation.
Correction/Clarification: (Published May 11, 2007) The address for a Web site aimed at encouraging girls in science and math is braincake.org. An incorrect address was given in this story as originally published May 9, 2007.
First Published May 8, 2007 11:24 pm