Abrams: Girls in Science program is letting curiosity lead the way (column)
Picture this: a room full of giggly girls, huddled around a white board and a large poster. The poster, taller than each of the girls, conveys a double helix structure snaking out like a ribbon from another structure that resembles a tightly wound ball of yarn, the chromosome.
“We can use this model to see what phenotypes might show up in a future generation — for example, how two brown-eyed parents might have a blue-eyed baby.”
“But how come some people’s eyes change color?” asks 8-year-old Valeria.
“That’s a great question!” I respond, “and one a geneticist like Denise Sheer could answer better than me.”
It’s another day in Walking Mountains Science Center’s Girls in Science program, where I regularly teach scientific concepts well above the level of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Today, we’re learning about DNA, heredity and Mendelian genetics at Eagle Valley Elementary.
I encourage the group through the advanced terminology by telling them I hadn’t learned any of this stuff until high school. By the end of an hour lesson, these girls are speeding through Punnett square models for an imaginary bunny family and can tell you the difference between dominant and recessive alleles using creative similes.
That is the beauty of Walking Mountains’ Girls in Science program. We’re just a group of gals “geeking out” over life’s great curiosities, like the mysteries held within our own DNA, and celebrating the accomplishments of great women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It’s not about fully grasping the concepts as much as it is awakening a sense of wonder, which inspires confidence in these young scientists.
Speaking of “geeking out,” 92 percent of girls who participated in Girls in Science during the 2016-17 year proclaimed that the program helped them better understand science. Whether getting their hands deep inside the guts of a computer, learning about survival while eating actual bugs or tearing apart an owl pellet, the impact of experiential and exploratory educational opportunities goes unmatched in fostering a true passion for learning. With the Girls in Science program completing its 10th year, it’s easy to see why the program has grown so rapidly.
As the coordinator for this extraordinary program, I’m honored to be at the forefront of the girl nerd revolution that is upon us. I hope to continue inspiring young women to reach deeper and wider into the unknown using STEM as a guide. There is no distance that Girls in Science cannot go, as long as curiosity leads the way. The Harvey Family Foundation, The Scrooby Foundation and the Xcel Energy Foundation underwrite the Girls in Science program.
Nicole Abrams is the Girls in Science coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. She loves fostering a sense of place in the natural world with the young ladies she mentors, inspiring them toward science-loving, sustainable lifestyles.