Posts Tagged 'STEM education'

Science Fair statistics: Girls and science

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center hosted the district-wide science fair on Saturday, April 17. What a great opportunity to see students applying the scientific method to questions and investigations, some obviously inspired by their daily lives: “Rotting Bananas” and “Sharpie Be Gone” – I’m just sure these were the result of personal experiences!

I am personally deeply invested in the success of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, so I used our entrants list to crunch a few numbers about female participation in the fair. Since this is the district wide fair, our contestants were the students who ranked in the top 3-5 places at their individual school’s science fairs. I’m happy to report that we actually had more female entrants this year (41 girls to 40 boys – yeah, yeah, I know, more girls by only 1, but still!). I think this is a great sign that our girls are just as likely as our boys to place at the top in their school’s science fairs.

Things took a slight turn in the rankings at our district fair. We had one clear winner, a 5th grade boy. Our second place award was a tie between a 5th grade boy and a 4th grade girl. Additionally, the top 1/3 ranked science fair entrants are recognized with “Superior” and “Excellent” designations. This year, 30 students received those awards. Happily, we had an equal number of boys and girls in this top 1/3 (not counting the first and second place finishers).

Interestingly, when I broke the numbers down a little further, things were not quite so balanced. We awarded 10 “Superior” designations: only 2 of those recipients were girls. Of our “Excellent” designations, 12 were girls. The boys were more evenly divided between the two designations (8 Superior and 6 Excellent), but clearly the girls were not. So, while girls are just as likely as boys to reach the district science fair, and just as likely as boys to finish in the top 1/3, they were not as evenly represented in the top 13 spots: 10 spots were won by boys, with just 3 spots won by girls.

This is the first year I’ve participated in the coordination of the Science Fair and so was the first time I looked at the gender breakdowns for participation. I’ll be sure to look again next year, and the year after that, to see if we can spot trends. For this year, I’m pleased with the statistics.

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Lambkin in Space

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Now, this is a Fort Collins-related flight story worthy media coverage.

I’ve heard several times about the Fort Collins High School (FCHS) graduate who is an astronaut. On Monday, November 9, an article appeared in both the Coloradoan and the Denver Post announcing that when Astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger (FCHS, Class of 1993) flies on the shuttle in March of 2010, she will carry with her a stuffed lamb, the mascot of FCHS, named Clyde who will be dressed in a homemade, gold-lamé flight suit.

Metcalf-Lindenburger represents what can happen when you follow dreams: she was a science teacher who told her students that she wanted to be an astronaut. As only kids can, they replied to her, “Why don’t you become an astronaut?” Instead of making excuses and listing reasons she couldn’t, Metcalf-Lindenburger applied and was accepted into NASA’s Astronaut Training Program. In just a few short months, she’ll become the first Lambkin in space.

dottie2.jpg

I find this significant because Metcalf-Lindenburger succeeded at STEM-based education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in our local school district, which provided her the foundation for her college studies as well as her time in NASA’s Astronaut Training Program. Studies have shown that U.S. students in fourth grade rank high in academic performance in math and science when compared with other industrialized nations. That ranking consistently drops as students progress through the grades. By twelfth grade, U.S. students’ academic performance in math and science is poor when compared with other industrialized nations; our ranking is near the bottom of the lists, some of which number over 40 countries.[1]

Other statistics address the change in STEM education performance by U.S. girls as they progress in school. Studies have shown that girls perform as well as, if not better, than boys in STEM-based education in elementary school. This begins to change in sixth grade and by the time girls graduate from high school, they are significantly underperforming in math and science when compare to boys.[2]

It is important to note that underperformance, by both U.S. students generally as well as girls specifically, is not a result of lack of aptitude. Metcalf-Lindenburger clearly had aptitude, a desire to learn, and a community of teachers (not to mention family) that helped her to not just perform well in STEM education, but to excel and apply those skills to a profession that requires exceptional STEM abilities.

Congratulations on your pending space flight, Ms. Metcalf-Lindenburger!  You can be sure that we here at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center will be using your story to encourage youth to follow their dreams and work hard at their math and science classes in school. By the way, would you consider bringing Clyde to the Museum for a visit after your mission? I think I can get you in for free.


[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Digest of Education Statistics

 

[2] National Science Foundation

*image courtesy of The Denver Post


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