"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wonderwise: Motivate Young Girls to Develop an Interest in the Sciences

A blueprint is a drawing of something you desire to build. In life, children grow up browsing through various blueprints. These are the adults children encounter early in their lives. They are usually called "role models" but these people seem to serve a similar purpose as blueprints do. They are copies of what children may aspire to become when they grow up. Parents are, of course, are the most obvious role models for young children. Outside the home, when children begin their formal schooling, teachers take this role as well. As children grow older, they get introduced to other role models. Indeed, the choices become numerous with increasing exposure to other people. These various role models are in fact options that a child may choose to imitate. Children begin to dream of what they want to become in the future.

For this reason, it is important for society to provide options that are beneficial. Schools need to introduce role models that demonstrate traits that are good for society in general: hardworking, creative, critical thinking, and moral. These are traits that are of good value to society. Careers that carry these values are especially worthy of advertising to the youngest members of society. A career in science is such an example. Science requires perseverance. The natural laws of this world are not served on a platter. These need to be pursued. Science requires hard work. To find the correct answers, a scientist needs to design well controlled experiments. This requires creativity and critical thinking. And as in any pursuit of truth, a scientist must be honest. Faithfulness to truth is the highest moral imperative. Providing scientists as role models to young minds is one of the reasons why science education must be given to primary school children. A career in science must be given as a possible option to children while they are still finding where their interests lie. One simply cannot expect a child to develop an interest out of nothing. A blueprint is necessary.

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln has a program called 4-H Youth Development. "4-H is a community of young people, ages 5-19, across America who are learning leadership, citizenship, and life skills." More than ten years ago, with financial support from the United States National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 4-H Youth Development developed the Wonderwise program:

The program consists of a series of nine learning kits, each focusing on a contemporary woman scientist and her field of scientific study. The kits invite students to take a “virtual” science field trip with these scientists and learn about their lives and their work. Each kit contains:
  • A 15-20 minute "virtual field trip" video profiling the scientist and showing her actively engaged in her work.
  • An interactive CD-ROM containing a biography of the scientist, and downloadable, printable versions of activity sheets in English and Spanish.
  • Five hands-on, inquiry-based science activities related to the scientist's field of study, with assessment materials and links to National Science Education Standards.
 The nine fields covered by this program can be seen in the following figure seen in the home page of the Wonderwise program:

This figure was downloaded from http://wonderwise.unl.edu/index.htm
Each of these fields highlights a woman scientist since one of the objectives of this program is to motivate young girls to consider future careers in the sciences. The following is the list of the female scientists (provided by "Great Science for Girls" )

Brenda Ballachey, Sea Otter Biologist:This kit features Brenda Ballachey, a scientist who studies sea otters and their survival after an oil spill. By experiencing the work of a wildlife biologist, and then conducting investigations of their own, students learn about science topics ranging from animal behavior to fragile ecosystems.
Sample Activities 
Peg Bolick, Pollen Detective:Margaret (Peg) Bolick is a scientist who collects pollen in ancient bone beds and takes daily pollen counts for physicians. Students will learn, among other things, about archeological investigation and solving medical mysteries.
Sample Activities 
Jannalee Caldwell, Rainforest Ecologist: Janalee Caldwell, a research ecologist, investigates poisonous frogs and other inhabitants of a Brazilian rainforest. Students will participate in activities designed to illustrate scientific methodology as well as learn about the intricate layers of life in the rainforest community.
Sample Activities 
Judy Sakanari, Parasite Sleuth:Judy Sakanari is a parasitologist who looks for parasites in fish markets, restaurants, and other places where food is sold and handled. Students will explore topics ranging from the lifecycle of parasites to the links between parasites and our food supply.
Sample Activities 
Fatimah Jackson, African Plant Explorer: Biological Anthropologist Fatimah Jackson explores the world of plants and their uses as food and medicine. Students will study the chemicals found in plants and learn how plants spread themselves from place to place.
Sample Activities 
Carmen Cid, Urban Ecologist:Urban ecologist Carmen Cid studies urban wetlands and how to keep them healthy. Through the activities in this kit, students will learn about wetlands, watersheds, and the efforts made to preserve plant and animal diversity in urban areas.
Sample Activities 
Adriana Ocampo, Space Geologist:As a space geologist, Adriana Ocampo studies craters and meteorites. Students will learn about topics ranging from dinosaur extinction to crater formation.
Sample Activities 
Tolani Francisco, Vet Detective:Tolani Francisco is a vet whose research takes her to Native American reservations in New Mexico to study the health of bison and elk. In this kit, students will learn about topics ranging from animal diseases to herd management.
Sample Activities 
Cathy Burson, Genetic Counselor:As a genetic counselor, Cathy Burson investigates diseases caused by genes and searches for ways to treat these disorders. Students will learn about a range of genetic topics, from cells to DNA.
Sample Activities
Clicking on each of the "Sample Activities" will bring you to a document that describes activities that can be performed inside the classroom. These activities are related to the work done by the female scientist. Whether this program does influence a child's impression of science and scientists, I copied the following drawing by a 9-year old girl, who went through these activities. The girl then drew the following "relationship map"
Figure downloaded from Deanna S. Acklie's PhD Dissertation, page 99
This was the child's explanation for this relationship map:
When I grow up I want to be like Jane Goodall because she studies monkeys, chimpanzees. And she helps animals. And I want to be like Tolani because she’s a vet.
Start them young....

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