A new, first-of-its-kind resource from the National Science Foundation (NSF) summarizes the methodology and results of 211 research-based grant projects that aim to increase girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and math.
The book, “New Formulas for America’s Workforce: Girls in Science and Engineering,” is intended primarily to help educators make science and technology more accessible to girls and young women. But NSF says it also can serve as a resource for educators, parents, and professionals seeking examples of creative ways to explore science and technology with their students in general.
“This is a perfect back-to-school tool for those teachers, parents, homeschoolers, and administrators who want to see how research has identified hands-on learning that works,” said Judith A. Ramaley, who leads NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources. “It is full of ideas, contacts, and research that make it an essential element in the toolkit of every educator between the kindergarten and college undergraduate levels.”
Since 1993, NSF has funded more than $90 million in programs designed to spark girls’ pursuit of science, technology, engineering, and math, because women are largely unrepresented in these careers.
According to the agency’s most recent statistics, women represented nearly one-half (48.6 percent) of the college-degreed workforce in the United States in 2000; but only one-fourth (24.7 percent) of the science and engineering workforce.
To combat this trend, the book provides a concise description of each grant project, its elements, and the related and supporting research. It also includes contact information, web site addresses, the NSF grant program number, key project members and associates, and a list of key words for every project featured, as well as internet addresses for software downloads and information about other products that have resulted from these projects.
Educators are encouraged to contact the program leaders listed in the book to network, learn how to participate in serious NSF research projects, and obtain related lesson plans. “Instead of having to reinvent everything or not knowing where to start, [educators] can look in here and contact the folks [who’ve blazed the trail],” said NSF spokesman Manny Van Pelt.
The programs featured range from summer camps to after-school and in-school programs. Some offer training to ensure that teachers don’t leave girls behind in science and technology instruction; others are aimed at students themselves and offer creative, engaging ways to stimulate girls’ interest in these subjects.
One program, called Sisters in Sport Science, has about 540 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls from Philadelphia learn math and science principles embedded in sports such as basketball, soccer, hockey, softball, fencing, golf, tennis, and track.
Each Saturday, the girls spend roughly an hour practicing the sport and an hour studying the science and math behind it. For example, after learning how to hit a tennis ball, the girls would spend the rest of the time determining the ball’s trajectory, motion, and force. In basketball, they might study the math and science of the rebound effect.
In another example, Boston researchers worked with teachers to develop and pilot several successful models of Single Gender Math Clubs for elementary school girls. In each school, the math clubs served as a way for the teachers to study gender dynamics in their classrooms and as a low-risk place to experiment with math activities.
“After recognizing and reflecting on classroom gender issues in the math club framework, they could think about how to improve the coed classroom environment. Teachers at each site changed their regular classroom math instruction after experiencing their students’ responses to reform math activities,” the book said.
Although the book only includes programs directed at girls and young women, its content and lessons are applicable to everyone, NSF says.
“The book’s theme centers on transforming the science and technology learning experience, so it is not limited by a student’s gender, race, disability, or other social factors,” said Ruta Sevo, NSF’s senior program director for Research on Gender in Science and Engineering.
“The book is intended to be what every educator would want as a first reference,” Sevo continued. “Some of these projects changed mindsets. Some changed lives. All of them planted the seeds of discovery.”
The book has been published in print and electronic formats and is available free of charge from NSF.
“New Formulas for America’s Workforce: Girls in Science and Engineering”
National Science Foundation