Girls and science at Avon Elementary
Vail CO, Colorado
AVON, Colorado ” You’ve likely seen this experiment in your lifetime ” baking soda, soap, vinegar and a little red food coloring trapped in a plastic bottle, the makings of a miniature volcano eruption.
A group of girls from Avon Elementary gathered around the soda jug after school, watching the chemical reaction push the pinkish foam out the top and over the side. They held a long sustained “ooooooh,” cheered, laughed, and as the eruption slowed down, they started shouting out questions. What was happening? Why was it happening? Why does it smell funny?
Teacher Lara Carlson said she never sees the girls this animated in class. They’re usually quiet and hesitant to raise their hands. Bringing out excitement for science is the point of this after-school program started by the Gore Range Natural Science School, called “Girls in Science.”
At the elementary age, many girls who enjoy learning about science seem to shy away from participation, often intimidated by the large class size and the presence of boys in the room, said Erin-Rose Schneider, the program’s coordinator.
The reality is that, for whatever reason, girls often lose interest in science as they get older and can’t imagine making a career out of science, Schneider said. The percentage of girls who believe that anyone can do well in math and science if they try declines from 90 percent to 71 percent from grades four to eight, and then to 46 percent by grade 12, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The idea of this program is to surround these girls with women role models who love science, and show them you can make a career out of being a scientist, said Schneider, who has degrees in bioengineering and environmental science, and worked as an engineer in an environmental consulting firm in Boulder.
“We want to show them that science isn’t boring, that science can be fun,” Schneider said.
Holly Domke, a sophomore at Vail Mountain School, does most of the teaching for the program. She said she’s loved science since she was a little kid. When she was home schooled, she always chose science over other subjects.
“I was always playing with bugs,” Domke said.
The atmosphere is relaxed and filled with laughter. The girls also are getting to study what they’re interested in. At their first session, they talked about all the things that scientists do and brainstormed all the things that they wanted to learn about. They’ll end up doing lessons on whatever gets them most excited.
They’ve already studied earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. After Christmas break, they’ll likely study electricity and physics.
The girls were surprised to learn that there’s even a science to cooking. If they can figure out how to scientifically explain what happens when you make a pizza, they could end up making pizzas.
Groups like this are also important for the demographics at Avon Elementary, Schneider said. Many of the girls are learning English as a second language, and all the vocabulary learned in the science program is helpful.
Schneider said many of the girls’ parents work two jobs, and the kids often spend their time at home watching television. A program like this can keep them engaged and encourage their interest in college, she said.
Girls in Science is a first-year pilot program. It’s being funded by a grant from the United Way.
Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.