In an information age, there is a huge gap in the number of San Diego Schools’ girls who pursue careers in math and science. According to Jeanne Ferrante, associate dean of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Jacobs School of Engineering, this is part of a national trend that occurs when girls lose their interest in these subjects between 6th and 9th grade. USCD and the San Diego Schools are trying to bridge that gap.
UCSD has received a 3-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund an Environmental Education Initiative aimed at middle school girls in the San Diego Schools. The grant is part of the larger Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) award program that uses money from H1-B visas to create funding for national programs. H1-B visas are given to professionals from other countries to fill technical needs in the United States.
The UCSD program uses the strengths of girls and their interests to get San Diego Schools’ middle school students excited about using science. Here’s how it works. The program, the USCD Information Technology-Engineering and Environmental Education Tools project (IT-E3 Tools), recruits undergraduates to create solutions to real world problems in the San Diego area. The recruits then create ways for San Diego Schools to carry out those solutions.
STUDENTS MONITOR AIR QUALITY TO DETERMINE FIRE RISK
Teachers know that a surefire way to reach San Diego Schools’ students is to connect learning to their own lives. Since these girls are old enough to remember the devastating fires in 2003, one program involves monitoring the air quality of San Diego Schools. Using devices designed by UCSD undergrads, San Diego Schools will teach girls to collect and interpret data like wind speed and makeup of air particles to help determine risk during fire season. San Diego Schools’ participants will also measure solar radiation, and learn about the risks and benefits of the sun’s power. Teachers in San Diego Schools will receive both summer workshops and on-going professional development in the 2007-2008 school year.
TEAMWORK AND TECHNOLOGY
Another way the IT-E3 Tools will benefits girls in San Diego Schools is by developing an on-line gaming community that supports the earth science curriculum standards. Diane Baxter, education director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center (a partner in the program), says that girls prefers to work as part of a team, so many of the solutions to challenges presented in the game will require the San Diego Schools’ girls to work together. It has also been well documented that girls do better with mentors, so another component provides opportunities for girls to ask questions of scientists, and to later become mentors them selves. The game is expected to be available to San Diego Schools by spring of 2008. San Diego Schools will also benefit from a variety of summer science camps and long-range assessments funded by UCSD.