University of Rochester

Imaginative Science Site for Girls Gets Warner School Know-how

February 8, 2006

April Lynn Luehmann
April Lynn Luehmann, Assistant Professor of Education (PHOTO CREDIT: University of Rochester)
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Middle-school girls now have their own online adventure in science at—a site featuring contemporary women scientists, exciting games, handy facts, and inspiration.

For the Web project, the National Academy of Sciences reached out to April Lynn Luehmann, assistant professor at the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester, to share her experiences working with middle-school girls. Luehmann advised the National Academy on design and content that would entice those students, help them get the most out of classroom and home activities, and give their parents and teachers a resource.

Visitors are led on a journey to discover that being a scientist is as much about personality, background, interests, and passion as academics. The site draws from and accompanies the publication of a 10-volume series of biographies for middle-school readers titled Women's Adventures in Science, which is co-published by the Joseph Henry Press (an imprint of the National Academies Press) and Scholastic Library Publishing.

Two Warner School doctoral students, Laura Farra and Sarah Hurley, also contributed to the project as science education developers. The site has attracted about 18,500 hits from around the world in its first two months.

For years, U.S. research has shown that as girls grow older, they lose interest in math and science subjects in school. Some studies peg young women's disinterest to stereotypes, others say female students don't hear enough about the range of career possibilities in science and math. A 2000 report by the National Center for Education Standards found that by eighth grade, twice as many boys as girls had an interest in science and math—even though four years earlier, their level of interest was the same.

"The goal of the Web site, first and foremost, is to create a space that middle-schoolers, especially girls, would enjoy," says Luehmann. "We worked to intrigue, inform, and inspire our young target audience." Lia, the animated character who introduces "lures you in, and before you know it, you're engrossed in learning about our fascinating world through the eyes and work of these women scientists," adds Luehmann. The biographies share much about the scientists' school and family lives as well as their work in very diverse and exotic science fields—a focus that should draw younger readers.

To get reaction before the Web pages were finalized, the site was tested in Rochester and a few other cities. Luehmann, who was director of science education on the Web project, and her graduate students did advance work with students at Rochester's School 23 and 12 Corners Middle School in Brighton.

Jennifer Terwilliger, a science teacher at 12 Corners, found the content excellent for that age group and the site easy to navigate. "My students especially liked the game that searched the galaxy for different planets, moons, and other heavenly bodies," she remembers from last year's test.

"I think it's great that the entire Web site focuses on contributions of female scientists," she says. "So often in science, the kids learn of the contributions that men have made. It is especially important for girls to see that many women have careers in the sciences, and have had a significant impact on what we know and can do today."

Luehmann's research as a science educator has focused on such efforts as using technology to support the work and development of secondary science teachers, engaging students in rich, out-of-school learning contexts to complement school-based science, and developing innovative teacher education programs with special consideration for the unique context of urban settings. Since coming to Rochester in 2002, she also has designed and worked with graduate students to teach science summer camps and school-year programs to develop or capitalize on girls' interest in science.