By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MILFORD - The Sally Ride Science Club is "all that" for fifth- and sixth-grade girls at Milford Main Middle School.
The school and St. Dominic Catholic School in Delhi Township are two of only five schools in the nation piloting the after-school science enrichment program. The club's goal is to keep middle school-aged girls interested in science.
"Girls in the fourth through sixth grades begin to turn off on science and technology," said Nancy Hemminger, program coordinator for the Milford and St. Dominic pilot sites. "It's not that they lack the gray matter. They don't advocate for themselves as much as they should."
Women make up only 19 percent of science, and technology fields.
Of the 10 fastest growing occupations, eight are science, math or technology related.
Jobs requiring math and science skills will increase by 5.6 million by 2008.
In fourth grade, the number of girls and boys who like math and science is about the same. But by eighth grade, twice as many boys as girls show an interest in these subjects.
By eighth grade, girls' interest in math and confidence in their math abilities have eroded, even though they perform as well as boys in this subject.
The percentage of girls who say they like science from fourth to sixth to 12th grade, goes from 66 percent to 47 percent to 48 percent.
The percentage of girls who believe that anyone can do well in math declines from 90 percent to 71 percent to 46 percent, from grades 4, to 8, to 12.
Media images of female scientists and engineers are rare.
Sources: Imaginary Lines; Educational Equity of Girls and Women, National Center for Education Statistics, 2000; Report of the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development, 2000; Before It's Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000).
Ride, the first American woman in space, is founder, president and CEO of Imaginary Lines, a company committed to encouraging and empowering girls to explore science careers. Statistics show only 19 percent of girls go into math, science and technology fields.
For six weekly sessions, 26 Milford Main and nine St. Dominic students experiment with hands-on activities and provide feedback to help the Sally Ride Science Club fine-tune the curriculum before it is launched nationwide.
In the EarthScape Series, girls learn procedures for commanding a digital camera (EarthKAM) on the International Space Station. They'll run a simulated EarthKAM mission to photograph places on Earth that they've chosen and see results on the program Web site. The hands-on experiences leading up to this exercise provide the knowledge to accomplish it. They engage girls in learning why it's important to examine Earth from space, acquaint them with the ISS orbit and give them map skills and tools for finding their way around our planet.
The club is accomplishing its goals of learning while having fun, according to the girls who participate.
"I think it's really fun," said Toni Paul, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Milford Main. "I really like it because we play, 'Where in the World is Sally Ride?' "
Toni, who wants to be a marine biologist, has an idea about why girls lose interest in science at her age: "I guess they start thinking more about things like makeup and guys."
Kayla Miller is considering a career as a science teacher. Kayla, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, has learned many things since the club began last month. She's learned that, without science, you could never tell someone how to get to the Amazon River. She's learned how to figure longitude and latitude.
"I like it because it's just a time you can be with other girls who like science, and you don't have to deal with all the guys who think they're better than you."
Ann Andriacco, a former seventh-grade science teacher, teaches the Sally Ride Science Club lessons at St. Dominic. In her 11 years of teaching, she regularly witnessed girls stray from science.
"Unless girls are really self-assured, they don't stand up for themselves," Andriacco said. "Girls, at this age, tend to write better, tend to communicate better. Boys don't. They tend to do the hands-on stuff."
But "somewhere around sixth or seventh grade, the girls have learned it's 'not cool' to like science."
Sixth-grade is a pivotal point because girls are about to make decisions in seventh grade on course work they will take, said Margaret Hanson, a physics professor at the University of Cincinnati."At that age, they're just starting to become young women. They want to be seen as feminine, and they don't see science as a feminine career.
"It's time now, in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, when you start to plant a few seeds. You don't want to make them all scientists if they don't want to be scientists, but you want those who are interested in science to make the right choices."
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