Can Supermodels Wear Science Goggles?!

In a land far, far away…where science is cool and messiness is king…supermodels ALWAYS wear science goggles. Explore how you can incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) into your program without having a PhD or spending millions of dollars on (boring) science equipment. Come make a mess, craft a guess (aka: hypothesis) and walk away with a recipe for success. 

When I was in 6th grade, my science teacher asked me to stay after class to talk (Uh oh...). He shared with me that he had the chance to choose one girl from the 6th grade class to participate in a week-long summer program at a University of Wisconsin campus, called STEPs (Science, Technology, and Engineering Preview at Stout) for Girls. He went on to explain that he wanted to nominate me because of my skill and interest in STEM (Wait. What?!).

Up until this point, I had never really thought about Science as an "interest." I mean, sure, I did enjoy hands-on learning. I liked that in Science and Math there were clear-cut right and wrong answers. And, oh yeah that's right, I was in an accelerated program in elementary school where we dissected sharks in 2nd grade. So, I guess that says something. 

I hope you've had this moment, whether as a kid or as an adult, where someone unexpected builds you up, points out a skill you've never noticed, or gives you an opportunity that can change who you are and how you see the world. We all need that.

Last weekend, I had the honor of attending the Mid States Camp Conference - a magical time and place where camp professionals gather annually for 3 days of hard-core camp planning, strategizing, budgeting, and networking. Plus lots of hugging and laughing. 

 Photo courtesy of Mid States Camp Conference.

Photo courtesy of Mid States Camp Conference.

My presentation topic... Can Supermodels Wear Science Goggles? 

[Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.]

Since the 1950s various researchers have asked students of all ages, including adult learners, to draw a picture of a scientist. What do you think they drew?

Yup. You guessed it. A white middle-aged man, almost always with glasses, often with facial hair, and usually wearing a lab coat (sort of like my 6th grade Science teach!). If they draw his surroundings, it usually includes some kind of chemical concoction bubbling away with smoke rising.

Sort of difficult for a 2nd grade girl in pigtails to identify with, right?

However, some studies show that if students have the opportunity to interact with female scientist role models, they're just as likely to draw a female scientist. Fascinating!

In 2012, the Girl Scout Research Institute completed a study called "Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math." 

The study finds that girls are interested in STEM and aspire to STEM careers, but need further exposure and education about what STEM careers can offer, and how STEM can help girls make a difference in the world.
— Research Summary (link above)

I won't go through all the details now, but if you're interested in this type of research, definitely check out the results and accompanying materials. The thing that stands out to me the most, though, is this:

81% of STEM girls are interested in pursuing STEM careers, but only 13% say it is their first choice
— "Generation STEM," Girl Scout Research Institute

Here's how you can help build up girls, kids, or colleagues in STEM, and show them that anyone can be a scientist:

  • Use the Three Processes. These are the golden rules we follow in Girl Scouts, and I can tell you: It works! The "processes" are these:
  1. Girl-led. You can call it "kid-led" or "participant-led." This is all about letting them make choices about what they want to do. Want to mix colors and make your silly putty orange instead of red? Great! Try it out! They feel empowered, and if they mess it up, they can always try again. [Disclaimer: use caution with this one if you're dealing with something dangerous.]
  2. Learning-by-Doing. This means it has to be hands-on. Lots of people will tell me about the time that they sat all 12 kids down in a row, and they opened the top of the Diet Coke bottle, and they dropped those mentos in, and WOW - did it shoot up in the air!! (but don't worry, the kids were really far away, so they didn't get messy). Hold up! Something's wrong with that picture. Why not give them each their own bottle, let them get covered in soda and then hose 'em down before they go home?
  3. Cooperative Learning. This is all about teamwork. It not only helps combine different individual strengths and weaknesses, but helps kids practice their teamwork and collaboration skills for when they have to use it daily as an adult. Practice makes perfect.
  • Follow these Tips for Adults.
  • Do stuff with kids! If you're a camp counselor or a teacher, do it with a group. If you're a cousin or an aunt/uncle, do it with your family. It's fun, and they will love it. Whether it's building with Legos, baking a cake, or building a cardboard box rocket ship, you can do it from a scientist's point-of-view. Ask thought-provoking questions and let their creativity soar!

You're not a supermodel right? Me neither. But it's important to show girls (and everyone) that you don't have to be a bearded man in a lab coat or a supermodel, to be a scientist. You are a scientist by being you: asking thoughtful questions, testing things out, getting them wrong and trying again, and then telling the world about your adventures.

So...what's the next science project you'll take on? And who will you share it with?

Handouts from my session "Can Supermodels Wear Science Goggles?!"