Putting the "Her" in Science: An Interdisciplinary Unit Exposes Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Students to Female Scientists from Several Eras and Various Fields of Science

By Wentworth, Sandra | Science and Children, April-May 2014 | Go to article overview

Putting the "Her" in Science: An Interdisciplinary Unit Exposes Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Students to Female Scientists from Several Eras and Various Fields of Science


Wentworth, Sandra, Science and Children


Caption: A sample of data collection sheets used to organize facts about Sylvia Earle.

Try this impromptu experiment. Ask a group of students to write the names of three famous scientists on a piece of paper within one minute. Chances are, most students will mention Einstein and be unable to name another scientist, specifically a woman, except for an occasional Marie Curie response.

A unit on famous women scientists may be the only exposure students receive to eminent women of science. Textbooks contain few examples of women scientists. Students may not have read biographies of women scientists in the media. Girls may not have any personal contact with women scientists as mentors. Exposure to such science professionals may help students understand the traits of these creative and productive females thus realizing the sacrifices they made to reach their career goals. This exposure can provide self-awareness for students in their personal career planning. Girls won't choose careers they know nothing about or cannot identify with. Such exposure may improve the positive ideas girls have regarding a personal future science career not previously considered (Rand and Gibb 1989). The discovery of an interest or passion for science early in an academic career may allow students to take the necessary science courses needed to meet their newly developed future goals.

Caption: A student creates a poster product with 12 facts about her scientist.

The study of individual scientists can provide further understanding of scientific inquiry, science as a human endeavor, and the nature of science. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) address science as a human endeavor and emphasize teaching the nature of science. The Common Core State Standards (NGAC and CCSSO 2010) provide a science framework and standards that can work in conjunction with one another to combine science content with literacy skills. The combination of science standards and literacy core standards are highlighted as crosscutting concepts in the Next Generation Science Standards.

The science goals of the unit are to expose students to eminent women scientists, encourage students to consider a career in the sciences, expose students to various learning styles through Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, and give students a chance to showcase their products to an audience. Goals to build literacy include having students gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively, assessing the creditability and accuracy of each source, paraphrasing the data of others while avoiding plagiarism, and following a standard format for citation. This approach may be used as a complete unit for students in the regular science classroom along with collaboration with the computer/technology program and English teacher.

Caption: Jane Goodall

Select a Scientist

For the select-a-scientist part of the lesson, I provided each student a detailed list of women scientists grouped into the science categories of Earth and environmental science, social science, space science, life science, and physical science (see NSTA Connection). I choose the scientists after researching each scientist and checking for multiple available resources. This list of scientists should continually grow over time as special care is taken to include more women of color and underrepresented groups. Students were then called to write their choice on a master list displayed at the front of the room after having their name drawn from a jar. Each scientist was chosen only once, thus, exposing the class to a multitude of women scientists during the showcase of products at the end of the unit.

Search

For the search portion of the lesson, each student was provided an organizational chart to manage the facts they researched about their chosen scientist (see NSTA Connection). …

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