Women in Science is a desirable wish for all of us in the sciences. Women bring new perspectives and skills making any scientific endeavour more expansive. There is no doubt about that. What is in question is how we can engage and keep girls in science as they work through the ups and downs to finding their dream job.
The journey students take from being brand new to science to full scientist isn’t the same for everyone. At one point a child might decide that they really aren’t that interested in the sciences — even as cool as they might have thought they were. Despite this, there are some things that I’ve seen over my decade of teaching and science outreach.
The Exciting Beginning
I’ve been working with children of all ages for a decade in a variety of science communication roles. Fairs, convention hall entertainment, birthday party entertainment, hands on science museums, teaching at public, private, and any other kind of school. I’ve done it all in my effort to share my love of the sciences. Through all these experiences, I have discovered that they all have the same thing in common: the younger the child, the more interested they are in science.
Younger kids have an excitement for the new, shiny idea and the show we put on. But, as they journey through science demos and hands-on to the upper level sciences, things start to change.
The Confused Middle
Near middle school is when math starts to get harder and more confusing while the sciences tend to get redundant and and less exciting. Thus, I’ve seen that many of the students of both sexes start dropping off. Not all children are interested in science beyond a pop-sci level. The ones that just want to play, but don’t care about the whys start dropping off the science adventure at this point.
As we develop the depth and breadth of science for children in education, they often start shying away from how much effort is required. The more in depth you ask them to think and apply logic, the more they tend to lose interest, especially if they aren’t ready for that level of involvement in their own educational journey.
The Defeated High Schooler
Life happens. Many girls (and boys) start finding interests in a wide variety of things, and compared to the “boring” sciences, they would prefer other things.
What We Can Do About It
Here at Insanitek R&D, a science apprenticeship firm, we’ve taken a 5 part approach to working with budding scientists. Here are the 5 ways we’ve helped them stay with sciences as much as possible through their education and beyond.
First, embrace the fact that not all girls will like science beyond the basics. We can still encourage them to enjoy the knowledge and logic that will help them in every facet of life. We can show them how chemistry and physics will impact everyday life from driving cars to makeup to making delicious, nutritious foods, and any other thing they like.
This impresses upon them to seek out real knowledge — not just the snippet and blurbs spread around social media.
Second, encourage girls to follow their passions — even if it isn’t science. If you feel the need to encourage them to stay with the sciences because they show an proclivity and enjoyment for it, introduce them to ways they can combine the two interests. There are lots of inspirational scientists on Instagram that can do it all!
When we’ve shown them that “being a scientist” doesn’t mean they have to give up anything, they often stick with their studies longer.
Third, encourage all students to stick with the harder stuff. Science is a demanding field in terms of logic and reasoning, but all skills are trainable. We’ve all come across those students that love science, but hate math and homework. (Actually, I think that is most of us scientists. Me included.)
Making our fields transparent about how real we are, faults and all, can help encourage kids to move beyond those growing pains.
Fourth, I’ve found a lot of impact can be made through the study of scientists’ real lives. Not just the glossed over versions in textbooks. I’ve had great success with audiobooks as the students can listen to them while they do other things. When I taught at the public school system, I offered them extra credit for writing a mini essay about the scientist, using proper citation of course, and how it impacts their ideas of science.
This has opened minds about how scientists and science is not one dimensional, even if it hasn’t created a lot of scientists.
Fifth, involve your students in real hands on science work as often as possible. Since I opened my science apprenticeship firm 3 years ago, we’ve had highschool students work with early retired scientists on independent research projects. They learn the hows, the whys, and the science all at once. They get to see the big picture and the minute details in real time, which seems to make a huge impact on the way they interact with all of the knowledge, data, and work involved.
This is not something that most students get, but it makes a huge difference to work with real projects and data. They get to see how slow science is, as well as how to apply all that book knowledge to solve problems. They get to see how their work impacts real lives and businesses. We’ve found that this has engaged more students than any of the other tactics above.
In the end we have to work with what we have. What are some ways that you’ve engaged students beyond the basics and standard means?
By Grace Conyers
Grace Conyers is the founder and CEO of the science apprenticeship and communication firm, Insanitek R&D. She is a part time soil chemist, full time mentor and educator to scientists of all ages. When not teaching science workshops, she is hiking and exploring her new home state of Indiana, United States. She loves teaching, so drop by Insanitek and ask questions.
Kizzi Nkwocha is the editor of Business Game Changer Magazine and publisher of The UK Newspaper, Money and Finance Magazine, the net’s fastest growing wealth creation publication. Kizzi Nkwocha is chair of The Ethical Publishers Association and co-chair of The Logistics Association. Kizzi made his mark in the UK as a publicist, journalist and social media pioneer. As a widely respected and successful media consultant he has represented a diverse range of clients including the King of Uganda, and Amnesty International. Nkwocha has also become a well-known personality on both radio and television. He has been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary on publicity and has hosted his own talk show, London Line, on Sky TV. He has also produced and presented both radio and TV shows in Cyprus and Spain.