Great Experiments by Mail: Kids and Scientists Collaborate A Mentoring Program Targets Girls, Minorities for Science Education

Article excerpt

TEN-YEAR-OLD Kristina Booth demonstrates how to measure time with her homemade "water clock." Tara Cromwell shows off the "sand clock" she created using plastic jugs and tape. And Liz Kidd, another classmate in this after-school program, sends a small wooden ball down a paper chute as she experiments with her "rolling-ball clock."

For these girls taking part in a unique education program administered by the Lynn, Mass., chapter of Girls Incorporated, a nationwide girls' advocacy group, the fun part is not just in building science experiments. It is writing letters to real scientists from neat places like California and Hawaii about their projects.

In the program, called Science By Mail, young people get hands-on experience by putting together science experiments from kits sent through the mail. Individuals or groups of youngsters are assigned to volunteer scientists from all over the country who act as mentors and instructors to the children.

"They tell us about a lot of stuff," says Tara. "You feel special because someone is writing to you."

Created by the Boston Museum of Science in 1988, Science by Mail is designed for kids in grades 4 through 9. Participants include home schoolers, classrooms, families, and youth groups.

The program is offered through 15 chapters in the United States and one in Canada.

A chief aim is to reach out to youngsters traditionally under- served by science education, such as girls and minorities. Currently, 50 percent of the program's participants are girls and 18 percent are minorities. Program officials hope to increase those percentages even higher.

"A lot of times {girls} don't have the opportunity to take things apart and build things like you would naturally expect from a young male growing up," says Sue Marvit, who administers Science by Mail for Girls Incorporated of Lynn.

"If women don't have some grasp of science and technology, they are going to be extremely limited in an information society," she says.

Organizers say the program is meant more to stimulate interest in science and encourage diversity among students than to promote competition.

Last year, a total of 25,000 students participated in the program along with 2,000 scientists from universities, institutions, and corporate laboratories. Teachers, youth-group leaders, or parents actually administer the program on site. …