By Linda Morgan
While enrolled in College Physics in the late 90's, Mary Margaret Callahan listened to her professor state, "Gentlemen, I am so embarrassed. Every girl scored higher than every boy in this class. But don't worry, men, trend is not destiny."
Callahan has since gone on to become a science and math specialist at the Seattle Girls' School but the question remains: How far have females advanced on the educational playing field? Apparently, not far enough.
The advocacy group, Math/Science Network, says female membership in the National Academy of Sciences is a mere ten percent. The number of women earning doctorates in mathematics is declining. In additions, the Nation Center for Women and Information Technology found that while females took fifty-six percent of all advanced placement (AP) tests in 2006, they made up only fifteen percent of students taking the AP computer science test. It is not that young girls shun math and science, in fact, they often excel while in elementary school in these areas. In middle school, however, "Girls lose confidence before the lose competence," states Rafael del Castillo, a former science and math teacher, now assistant head of the Seattle Girls School. "Girls tend to gather information collaboratively," he adds. "They want to explore the process more and go a little deeper...to know the "why" and the "how" while boys are more focused on the answer. They want to do it quickly and get it right. Teachers typically respond with enthusiasm to the male 'find-the-answer' learning model in math and science classes...turning boys into "good" students rewarded by teacher while girls begin to view themselves as minor players in math and science. And that is how self confidence begins to ebb."
Finding strong role models of women trailblazing the fields of math, science, and tech worlds have yet to achieve the visibility of, say, Hannah Montana. "There are good images out there of creative, successful women but what do girls see on television? America's Top Model? Young ladies need mentors and role models who encourage participation in these fields," says Callahan.
Chance are it is difficult to find such role models at the elementary school level because grade school teachers tend to be generalized; not highly trained in the field of science. Most high school math and science departments are overwhelmingly male. This leave middle school, when the social scene takes center stage. "At this age it is hard for girls to see themselves as smart, pretty, and popular...a little bit of everything," says Callahan. Girls tend to not view themselves as computer scientists. "The perception is that computer science is either a male field or a field for geeks," says Mylene Padolina, senior diversity consultant for DigiGirlz High Technology Camps. Since 2000, Microsoft has sponsored these summer camps for girls to introduce them to careers in the technology industry. The free camps are held throughout the country. As Padolina points out, "Technology is not just a guy thing and we want girls to understand there are a variety of jobs in tech fields...programmers, developers, and testers...also psychologists, graphic artists, and people in other disciplines."
To help your daughter grasp the possibilities of a tech, science, or math field career, encourage her and keep her engaged in the math and science classes and clubs offered at her school or in her community. Early exposure is the key!
Excerpted from Beyond Smart" Boosting Your Child's Social, Emotional, and Academic Potential by Linda Morgan, released by ParentMap Books. For more information or to order, visit www.parentmap.com/beyondsmart.
Tips for Keeping Girls Interested in Science
Provide role models and mentors
Expose to the myriad of jobs in these fields
Stay aware of curriculum in science and math classes
Communicate with teachers on keeping interest in subjects
Look into summer science or technology camps
Consider all girl schools or classrooms
Stay aware of your daughter's math and science school curriculum by utilizing the school websites. (Click here to link to local school district websites.)
Fredericksburg Parent and Family is sponsoring Science Saturdays for girls this fall and winter. Read more about Science Saturdays here.