Girls Hooked On Science?


Ever realized how few girls who are hooked on science in the elementary years actually wind up pursuing a career in it? Well, there's an incredible environmental education initiative being launched to try and keep middle-school girls excited about science and engineering careers by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) through a $1.2 Million grant by the National Science Foundation. The UCSD team will help San Diego county students monitor the air quality, solar radiation and other environmental factors involving their schools, while using environmental research techniques, tools, and data to create a multiplayer online science challenge game designed specifically for 12- to 15-year-old girls by focusing on the things they naturally enjoy best as forms of online entertainment. According to Diane Baxter, the education director with the San Diego Supercomputer Center who will oversee development of the game, "We know girls like games that involve adventure and mystery and where they can take on the persona of the lead character. Girls are also more likely to play games in a community, rather than on their own." And as the success of websites like MySpace suggest, I think that this approach quite obviously has real potential to reach girls with environmental science in a way that they enjoy.So how exactly will this program focus on the environment itself? Well, students in San Diego county can easily remember the catastrophic fires of 2003 that drove many people out of their homes and caused several local school districts to close down. But at the time only three stations existed in the county that were able to provide the crucial information about concentrations of airborne particulates necessary to guide decisions about health and safety in the region. As they spend time collecting data from the new stations that will be introduced through this program, girls will be able to easily see how measurements they'll be involved in recording and analyzing will be useful in making such decisions in the future. Beyond this analysis of airborne particulates, sensors located at schools will also measure local solar radiation which will help girls understand why they need to be careful about sun exposure while enabling them to analyze the potential benefit of solar power for their school at the same time. Ultimately, the program will serve to educate girls about the environment while working to ensure that many more of them maintain their interest in science through the middle school years than in the past.