Editor’s note: Cluing girls into the astronomy behind earth’s seasons is just one way to connect their interest in science to everyday life. Read on for more tips on keeping your girl interested in science, tech, engineering and math.
Your daughter charges home from school all excited about the video she saw about wolves. It’s just wolves, you could tell yourself, but by fostering her new interest, you may help her discover a future career as a veterinarian, forest ranger, or zoologist. This is just one reason keeping girls interested in science is important.
Our girls need all the encouragement we can give them if they are going to pursue a science-related job. Only 19 percent of the people in science, math, and technology careers are female, and in the highest salary occupations—computer science and engineering—women make up only 9 percent of employees. Equally sobering is this fact: Interest in science drops off dramatically for girls between the fourth and eighth grades, and even when high school girls show an aptitude and interest in science, they rarely pursue it as a profession.
The reasons for this are varied. First, many girls—especially middle-schoolers—don’t understand that a science career is a way to help their environment or community. When they consider using science for social good, however, their attitude often changes. If your daughter understands that as a chemist she can help find solutions to pollution, or that as a naturalist she can help preserve endangered species, she’ll probably get more excited.
Girls also sometimes view science as an isolating career path, and since many girls like the idea of working with others, they may not be able to imagine themselves in these sorts of occupations. “We need to show girls that scientists aren’t necessarily people in lab coats locked away somewhere,” says Dr. Carolyn Randolph, president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association. “There are female physicians, geologists, marine biologists—women are everywhere in science. The best thing we can do is give girls exposure to them.”
In addition, girls still deal with stereotypes. Parents, friends, and even teachers may treat a girl who likes science differently than a boy with the same interests. “Science and math have the reputation for being a little dry. They’re not, and lots of girls understand this. It’s natural for girls to be interested in these things,” says astronaut Sally Ride, who founded Sally Ride Science.
The good news is that there are more resources than ever to help girls learn about science, and get them connected to other girls who like the same topics. Organizations such as the Girl Scouts hold science camps and classes. Websites allow girls to do their own experiments and hear what other girls are doing. Even teaching styles in the science classroom are changing to meet girls’ needs. For example, many teachers are doing small-group work because researchers have found that girls learn more when they’re sharing information with peers.
Being a scientist doesn’t require a special gift. All it takes is curiosity, determination, and enthusiasm. Falling in love with wolves may be just the start.
What You Can Do:
Look for interactive websites, science fairs, and summer science camps.
Educate yourself and overcome your own fears about science and technology.
Introduce your daughter to women who work in science, tech, engineering and math.
Visit institutions where professionals apply science, such as the planetarium, aquarium, zoo, farms, even amusement parks.
Check out library books on topics she shows an interest in.
Seek at-home experiments in books, websites, and magazines.
Make science a part of everyday conversations and talk casually about how science occurs in everyday life.
Get to know her science teacher by volunteering at school. Speak to the class if you work in a science-related field, or help chaperone a field trip.
www.imaginarylinesinc.com. Founded by astronaut Sally Ride, provides great information for girls and parents.
SciGirls on public TV is a great way to see girls doing science in daily life. And the website is full of fun and great resources for girls and parents: http://pbskids.org/scigirls/home
Engineer Girl showcases diverse women engineers and the huge range of what their work. http://www.engineergirl.org/
Girls Who Code has great programs in computer tech for high school girls. http://girlswhocode.com/