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Promoting Out-of-School-Time Science at the National Conference on Girls’ Education February 14, 2012

Posted by Connie Chow in Executive Director Musings, Gender differences?, girls in science, Guest Blog, STEM pipeline efforts, women in science.
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I had the pleasure of organizing a workshop, “It Takes a Village: Building Sustainable Partnerships Between Scientists, Community Organizations and Girls,” with Dr. Linda Kekelis, executive director of Techbridge in Oakland, CA and Jameela Jafri, Senior Manager of Curriculum and Professional Learning Communities at Project Exploration in Chicago, IL. It was presented at the first National Conference on Girls’ Education in Washington DC, hosted by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.

There was much emphasis on building girls’ resilience, their “internal resume” as Rachel Simmons put it, and the importance of practice at critical junctures for the development of the brain “muscles” associated with socio-emotional and other cognitive functions, as preparation for leadership, and for life.

The approaches of our three organizations towards working with girls (and boys) from urban communities, and what we need to do as scientist-educators to meet them where they are were very similar and we each learned from the other groups. I particularly like Jameela’s framing of the collaboration between youth and adults as a community of practice. Since she was swift to produce an excellent summary, I have (with her permission) excerpted her observations below.

“The conference was an opportunity for organizations—particularly public charter and private schools—to share practices and raise issues that are relevant to educating and nurturing young women today. Engaging girls in STEM pursuits and building leadership skills were among the main themes of the conference.

Project Exploration’s presence at the conference was important as one of the voices for effective science education for girls from communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. I had the pleasure of co-presenting our model of engaging girls and scientists in meaningful science programming with Dr. Linda Kekelis, executive director of Techbridge in California, and Dr. Connie Chow, executive director of Science Club for Girls in Massachusetts. Our presentation, entitled “It Takes a Village: Building Sustainable Partnerships Between Scientists, Community Organizations and Girls,” was well attended by schools that are developing and growing science outreach programs for their female students and scientist mentors. Many of these schools were eager to identify effective strategies for recruiting and working with scientists who would be able to mentor and provide science activities for their girls.

My presentation focused on two main questions:
  1. What do scientists need for a meaningful outreach experience with youth?
  2. In terms of access, what do youth—particularly minorities and girls—need when engaging with scientists?

I framed these two questions around the social learning theory of community of practice, where people come together around similar questions, ideas, goals, and practices. I discussed how “building a village” with adults and youth is really about developing a community of practice, where both parties are engaged in learning and doing science. This is particularly important, I noted, given that we need to consider normative adolescent development and the needs that young people have from a psychological and developmental point-of-view in order to form an identity in science.

The big take away from the conference was that gender-specific programming (both in and out-of-school) is important for the developmental needs of girls. For Project Exploration, this point resonates well with our commitment to services for girls and boys. More importantly, our work in Sisters4Science and our new Brothers4Science reflects an acute awareness that single-gender education is not about teaching a group of students who just happen to be all girls or all boys. Rather, the specific strategies that we use in Sisters4Science are different than the ones used in Brothers4Science because the needs of young women and the needs of young men differ, particularly during the formative middle school years.”

What are your thoughts about working with young women, and about gender-specific programming?

More about the other learnings from the conference are further summarized here.

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