Where are the future scientists?
Kids' lack of interest troubles the industry
(Page 2 of 2)
But they share something else. Most of the applicants, who wrote essays about what they would invent to make life easier or more enjoyable, described inventions that would benefit others, not themselves.Skip to next paragraph
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Karyn wrote about a "voice-operated form-fitting suction and massage glove" for her grandmother: "My grandmother always says, 'If I could just get these hands working, I could do more things.' She was very upset when she broke one of her favorite tea mugs because she couldn't hold onto it. This is why I think my glove invention would be a great one."
"It just knocks my socks off," Finn says of the altruism the students exhibit - an altruism science might benefit from. As the girls inspect the innards of computers and make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, Finn looks on, hoping something will click.
Ms. Thaller, who dedicates most of her time to education for NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility, cringes when she hears educators generalize about kids based on gender.
But she does notice behaviors that tend to separate boys from girls. "It's not that girls perform worse or seem less interested," she says, "but I have noticed a real trend in them getting more quiet and introverted, and I see that in late middle school."
Thaller, who taught accelerated science in middle school for six years, realized one day that she seemed to be favoring the boys. "The girls were in the back of the room, breaking off into groups and getting things done quietly," she says. "They were efficient and talented, and their work was just as good, but the guys were more aggressive, vying for my attention more."
Statistics do point to differences between boys and girls. The average SAT math score for girls, for instance, is 35 points lower than it is for males. A deeper look, however, reveals another trend: Among students who took an accelerated math course before the test, the 35-point difference disappears. Fewer girls, the numbers indicate, actually take the advanced math courses, thus their average score suffers.
Teachers, and the industry as a whole, Thaller says, will have to make science more inviting to all, especially if they want to draw a variety of thinkers. Science, after all, isn't only proving the establishment wrong, she says: "It takes team work."
That kind of work is stressed at the EXITE camp. By Wednesday, the girls are finally getting comfortable together. With the help of volunteers from IBM, MIT, and other neighboring institutions, they've built virtual bridges, programmed robots, and used Venn diagrams to get to know one another.
Today they are a noisy bunch, racing to see which group finishes the Lego robot first. "Oh, no, we messed up," Imani squeals from her space on the floor. She squints through her glasses at the printout and instructs her two workers to "put that side in the middle of that."
"You're making no sense," Karyn says through her braids. "Yes, I am," Imani retorts, then grows quiet. "Whatever. I'm sorry." Boss Ruth sits Buddha-style to Imani's left, arms crossed as Jay-Z crackles through her headphones. When they complete the robot one of the workers, Nicole, clasps her hands together. "You all are good bosses," she beams.
These are activities where the girls can learn about science through social interaction, Finn says from her spot in the corner.
"This morning, a volunteer mentor was helping out," she says. "One of the campers showed up and dragged her father over because she wanted him to meet her mentor. Which opens the father's eyes. He sees it's from a personal connection. Which is maybe how girls are wired."