s I examined the cardboard structure of a hurricane-proof-house prototype, complete with paper-rolled trusses and small fabric curtains, the natural integration of STEM and design came to life through child’s play.
This model house was made by a young girl from DC in a Camp Invention® program as a solution to a challenge posed by another young girl from Cuba about the need for housing that can withstand hurricanes. In the situation posed, she was identifying with the roles of architect, engineer, inventor, and designer.
According to researcher and professor of Free-Choice Learning, Dr. John Falk, identity can be thought of through the lenses of situational and core identities. Situational identity changes based upon the various roles and scenarios we go in and out of—sometimes changing from moment-to-moment and context-to-context. Core identity, however, tends to be more stable and deeply rooted in values and beliefs.
As a Senior Creative Content Specialist for the National Inventors Hall of Fame, I spend ample time thinking about the role that science plays in the identities of youth. I observe and talk to the young girls in our program and hear so many of them say that it is the first time they used tools. I watch them move from saying, “I can’t” to exclaiming, “Look what I just did!”
Dr. Lynn Dierking, also a researcher and professor of Free-Choice Learning, and Dale McCreedy of the Discovery Center at Murphy Spring, offer keen insights on girls and STEM in the Franklin Institute’s 2013 publication: Cascading Influences: Long-term impacts of informal STEM Experiences for Girls.
This study, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, focused on whether informal, girls-only STEM experiences have potential long-term influences on young women’s lives, particularly women who have not historically been represented in science.
The researchers knew there was short-term evidence that these programs engaged girls and excited them about science, but wondered what impact these programs had long-term—particularly choices in education, careers, leisure pursuits, or ways of thinking about science and who does it.
Many women in the sample indicated that STEM plays a significant role in their daily lives— they either work in traditional science careers or engage in science-related careers, interests, and hobbies.
The study showed, however, that there were still tensions around the ways that girls/women think about what counts as science. Unfortunately, a sterile laboratory setting is still the predominant image that comes to mind for many young women when they think about a science career.
Research findings of this nature significantly influence our approach in the Camp Invention® and Invention Project® programs. Some of our Inductees, like Radia Perlman (Spanning-Tree Protocol), deliver invention challenges through video messages in our programs.
These challenges allow girls and boys to identify with cutting-edge STEM innovators working outside of the “sterile laboratory,” and offer multiple entry points into the challenges. We are giving youth STEM experiences that redefine the entire world as their laboratory and we invite you to join us in this mission.