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October 25, 2011

Warner awarded $1.2 million to support informal science education

gifls in a lab
Students from Rochester’s Science STARS program work on a project. Science STARS  is part of the larger Get Real! Science Project, a teacher preparation program designed to engage students in real science. It is closely allied with the National Science Foundation’s priorities of broadening the participation of girls in science.

A $1,249,984 grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to the Warner School will provide experiences for hundreds of urban teen girls to participate in inquiry-based investigations that will help them to develop their identities as scientists and agents of change in their communities.

The grant builds on years of associate professor April Luehmann’s commitment to engaging young women from minority groups and of low socioeconomic status in quality informal science education through Science STARS (Students Tackling Authentic and Relevant Science). With the funds, Luehmann will expand and enhance the work of Science STARS, an innovative after-school program that has supported the interest of urban middle school girls in science for nearly a decade. Originally piloted in Rochester, the program will grow locally and expand to two new cities—Lansing, Mich., and Seattle, Wash.

“Rochester schools, like schools across the country, have achievement gaps when it comes to the sciences,” says Anibal Soler Jr., principal at Rochester City School District’s East High School, where Science STARS took place the past two years. “Here locally, Science STARS has planted seeds of scientific knowledge, participation, and enthusiasm in Rochester girls that will last a lifetime. We are thrilled to partner with programs like Science STARS to provide girls with the necessary tools to increase their confidence in science and their ability to talk about science and to pursue their science interests.”

Science STARS, which is part of the larger Get Real! Science Project, a teacher preparation program designed to engage students in real science, is closely allied with the NSF’s priorities of broadening the participation of girls in science. Luehmann, the principal investigator on the four-year project, who created Science STARS, says that the after-school program acknowledges and celebrates what girls bring to science.

“It is crucial that young women have rich and extensive opportunities to experience the creative, collaborative, and compelling work of real science at a time in girls’ lives when they are making key decisions about high school courses and careers in science,” Luehmann says. “Science STARS targets girls at an age when they are receiving mixed messages about what science is, how science is done, and what their roles should be in science and science learning. Teens often find science uninteresting because they do not see the relevance to their everyday lives or communities. The enhanced program will not only help girls to understand science, but it will also give them a chance to see themselves as capable of doing science and using their science to make noticeable changes in their own backyard.”

The free Science STARS program, which is expanding from 10 weeks in the fall to a total of 20 weeks during the full school year, plus three weekend getaways, for a total of 65 hours, will work with seventh- through 12th-grade students at three different sites. Over the next three years, the program will serve girls from East High School, and, with support from Michigan State University and the University of Washington, will expand to serve students from Lansing and Seattle city schools the last year.

Luehmann’s coinvestigators on the grant include Angela Calabrese Barton from Michigan State University and Jessica Thompson from the University of Washington.

The first half of the school year will be devoted to carrying out original empirical scientific investigations situated in the community, where girls will pursue a question of their choice and then share their results with the public at a community-wide science conference. As an extension of this work, the second half of the school year will focus on honing literacy skills, when girls work directly with professional filmmakers to create a science documentary that airs in local cinemas for the community and on YouTube and other educational outlets as a resource for science educators.

“The enhanced program will allow us to do more for the girls—to better their lives and to strengthen their self-confidence in science and themselves,” says Lisa Zeller, a master’s student in the science teacher preparation program at Warner. “Our goal is to strengthen girls’ confidence in science. Through strategic planning and activities, we will be able to form relationships with the girls, providing them with multiple opportunities to self-reflect and see their true growth through this program.”

For more information on Science STARS, visit http://getrealscience.com/STARS/ or contact April Luehmann at 275-3010 or aluehmann@warner.rochester.edu.

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