SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Braincake.org focuses on girls in math and science

Carnegie Science Center's website works toward gender equality for girls from 11 to 17.

Dec 28th, 2009

Carnegie Science Center's website works toward gender equality for girls from 11 to 17.

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION
Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business leaders

GRACE KLONOSKI

A great example of a Web resource that is advancing our community's goal of making math and science accessible and interesting to students is braincake.org, a product of the Carnegie Science Center'sGirls, Math & Science Partnership (GMSP). Targeting girls ages 11-17 from around the globe along with their parents, teachers and mentors, the program works to bring organizations, stakeholders and communities together in an effort to create gender equality in the sciences.

"We're here to help girls be confident, solve problems, and think independently," says Jennifer Stancil, GMSP Director. "We engage girls in current science, helping them understand its relevance to their life today. We create and link girls to programs that educate and prepare them to understand and use science in their everyday lives. And, we embrace girls as architects of change—envisioning, planning, organizing, shaping, and building a better world—with math and science as their tools."

The site offers some sobering statistics on the under-representation of girls and women in math, science, technology and engineering. In a 2003 study of career barriers for women and minorities conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, data showed that while women comprise nearly 50% of the national workforce, less than 20% of those were in science/engineering. The picture for minority women was even more discouraging. African-American and Hispanic women were each nearly 10% of the national workforce, but only 3% each were in science/engineering. According to Braincake, only 27% of the 3.25 million Americans employed in math and computer science occupations are women, and unless trends are reversed, this number may get worse: men earn three times as many doctorates in math and science as women, and the enrollment of girls/women in computer science majors declined 70% in the first half of this decade. At the same time, the need for graduates skilled in these areas is growing. Between 2004 and 2014, it is estimated that jobs requiring science, engineering or technical training will increase 24%.

Braincake.org strives to counteract the assumption that math, science, technology, and engineering are intellectually out of reach and inappropriate for girls and women through the use of teen-friendly text and graphics, inspirational messages, blogs, quizzes and contests, opportunities for interactive communication, and plenty of searchable content. The site is divided into sections that offer a wide variety of experiences.

"Happening" is a searchable compendium of fun programs and events involving math and science. A recent list of offerings included a tour of Google's Pittsburgh, PA, office, a tour of the National Aviary, and a pilot program of classes highlighting science and math applications of the iLife Series software for Apple computers, from designing a website to rocking out with GarageBand.

Girls can compete for a chance to win "Green for Your Dreams" money for math and science-related programs and activities by reading a Braincake story about an interesting woman and the company she works for, and then taking a "BrainSqueezer" online quiz about how the woman profiled uses math, science, and technology every day. Girls answering all questions correctly are entered in a drawing for a cash prize.

"We Hear That" invites girls to post comments about a series of topics. This section is also home to GirlTalk Radio, a mentoring initiative that gives girls ages 11-16 the opportunity to interview women, from CIA agents to restoration ecologists, for broadcast on the website.

Mentoring is encouraged through "Mentor Match." Girls fill out a brief online quiz before being matched with a mentor who best fits her interests. The mentor is available to answer questions and provide support and guidance via email.

"Click!" is an urban science adventure summer program designed specifically for middle school girls that promises "secret clues, covert missions, science mysteries and awesome technology." Participants work in teams over a six-day period to solve a mystery in Pittsburgh, PA. Using high-end equipment such as global positioning systems and a specialized evidence documentation computer interface, the girls earn their "secret agent credentials" by learning, observing, interviewing, presenting, and ultimately solving a series of cases.

The "Feed your Head" section includes games, experiments, career snapshots, homework help, biographies of women in math, science, and technology, and links to related sites are continually updated.

An important component of the site is the "Parent & Teacher" section, which provides resources such as a Gender Equity Toolkit to help parents, teachers and educators encourage girls to consider science as a career. "While we know that between 4th and 8th grade, we lose more girls' interest than any other time, every stage is critical," says the website. "According to our research, Moms are particularly influential in their daughters' career choices in the sciences."

The Girls, Math & Science Partnership engages, educates, and embraces girls as architects of change. Born out of The Heinz Endowments 1998 study, Promising Futures, the Partnership was created to address issues regarding girls, their participation in science, and their influence on the workforce. GMSP became a program of the Carnegie Science Center in late 2005.

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The OSA Foundation was established in 2002 to support philanthropic activities that help further the Optical Society's mission by concentrating its efforts on programs that advance youth science education, provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources and support awards and honors that recognize technical and business excellence. The grants funded by the OSA Foundation are made possible by the generous donations of its supporters as well as the dollar-for-dollar match by OSA. To learn more about the OSA Foundation and to make a contribution to this or other Foundation programs, please visit www.osa-foundation.org or e-mail: foundation@osa.org

GRACE KLONOSKI is the Senior Director, Foundation, Membership & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036;
email: gklono@osa.org; Web site: www.osa.org

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