The Frankie McCullough Girls Academy held it's first STEM Scouts of the year, where students were asked to build a structure that would hold weight using nothing but spaghetti and marshmallows. (Jim Karczewski/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Defying Gender Stereotypes, Ind. School Pushes Girls Into Science

By Meredith Colias
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) At the Frankie Woods McCullough Academy for Girls, there is an emphasis toward science and mathematics, encouraging girls to defy gender stereotypes and embrace science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at an earlier age.

GARY, Ind.

In 20 minutes, D’Jharea Joyce and her group needed to build a free-standing structure with limited materials able to withstand the weight of 1 1/2 boxes of spaghetti.

When their triangular-shaped structure made from spaghetti and marshmallows held, unlike others in the room, she didn’t believe it.

“It was just suspense and surprise,” said Joyce, 13, as her team won the inaugural activity in STEM Scouts program, started by Boy Scouts to encourage learning math and science.

When it began in 2005, her all-girls school, Frankie Woods McCullough Academy for Girls, shifted its emphasis toward science and mathematics, encouraging girls to defy gender stereotypes and embrace science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at an earlier age.

Historically, girls have scored weaker in those areas in testing. The school’s goal was to change that trend, Principal Pearl Prince said.

Academic research provided from Indiana University in Bloomington has helped teachers identify why girls were often drowned out of math and science discussions at school, male peers were often more naturally domineering in a classroom, said kindergarten teacher Antonia Escobedo.

“They found that women as teachers … were geared toward asking the boys more of the math and science questions, because they would have the answers, or the problem-solving techniques,” she said.

To correct that problem, McCullough teachers emphasize problem-solving skills and ownership of learning, she said. “Just having that confidence and that was one skill they said girls lack.”

A key would be for teachers to hold back and encourage girls to take charge and become more independent in class: “In doing so, then we can see the progression of their learning,” Escobedo said.

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