Involving Elementary Girls

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girls in a classroom listening to a young woman standing at front

Teen girl at Girls Inc. of Alameda County leads elementary girls in making solar cookies.

In the Five Stars Pathway model, undergraduate students, graduate students and professional scientists act as role models for middle school girls. Once the middle school girls have had the opportunity to learn about a particular science topic (in this case, the electromagnetic spectrum and solar science), they teach some part of the content they learned to elementary age girls. Essentially, the middle school girls become the role models for the younger girls. In doing so, the middle school girls have the opportunity to see themselves as the STEM experts and increase their interest and confidence in their ability to pursue STEM studies.

There are many different ways that the middle school girls could share their knowledge with elementary girls. Each of the two Five Stars Pathway field test sites approached this part of the program slightly differently. In the case of Girls Inc. of the Island City, the middle school girls organized a special event for elementary girls which highlighted several activities that they had learned from the college students (see “Spotlight: Sun Fair” below for more info). At Girls Inc. of Alameda County, the middle school girls presented activities as part of an existing afterschool program for elementary girls.  In both cases, the middle school girls connected with elementary school girls who were already participating in Girls Inc. afterschool programming. If your afterschool program does not already include elementary girls, you may want to collaborate with another organization who does offer programming for younger girls. Alternatively, consider having middle school girls present activities at family-focused science events for the public.

Spotlight: Sun Fair

Girls Inc. of the Island City designed and hosted a 90-minute “Sun Fair” as a special event for elementary students as a real world way for middle school girls to act as role models for the elementary girls. The elementary girls participated in the Sun Fair as part of their regular afterschool program at Girls Inc. The Sun Fair began with a whole group presentation by the middle school girls, then the elementary girls split into groups to rotate through stations to engage in activities. The middle school girls led all phases of the project; they designed the overall structure of the fair; they identified roles for themselves to play, adapted demonstrations and activities for young learners, and together they very successfully ran the event including the presentations and station activities. The Girls Inc. coordinators Diana Cristales, Natalie Durante and Shampale Williams coordinated the logistical aspects of the event.

The Sun Fair served as the culminating session for the Five Stars program at Girls Inc. of the Island City. The last three sessions of the program were dedicated to the Sun Fair: one to preliminary planning, a second to practicing the demonstrations/activities with feedback, and the final session was conducting the Sun Fair itself with elementary students and parents visiting the Girls Inc. site.

Working with elementary students gave the middle school girls a chance to really shine and share their new-found knowledge. The teens created scientifically accurate explanations of solar structures and processes using language that a young child can understand. With the help of teen-created diagrams and analogies, they introduced the Sun’s zones, solar flares and sunspots among other solar topics. In keeping with Girls Inc. programs goals, they also included real life connections and reminded young girls to be safe in the sun with sunscreen, hats, glasses and the like.

In addition to the introductory solar science experience with compelling visuals and videos, the Sun Fair included three stations where the elementary students used hands-on activities to explore UV light, infrared light and finally were able to learn about galaxies. Each station was led by two teens and an adult from UC Berkeley. The overall coordination of moving children from one station to the next was overseen by the Girls Inc. Teen Program leader.

The program lasted 90 minutes and finished up with a chance to collect age-appropriate reading materials as well as information on other learning resources for parents. Many of our teens reported that this experience of teaching others was the highlight of the program for them.

Suggestions for Success

  • Encourage middle school girls to take leadership of the event while also providing guidance and organizational support where necessary.
  •  Allow plenty of time for the middle school girls to prepare for the event, including planning, practicing and preparation.
  •  Discuss what it is like to be an elementary school girl, including having middle school girls think back to that age to recall what they were like, what they could and couldn't do and what they found fun at that age.
  • Have the middle school girls reflect on the activities they have done to decide which one(s) would be best for teaching to the elementary girls.
  • Once the middle school girls have chosen what activity they will do with the elementary girls, have them practice teaching the activity with each other.
  • Guide middle school girls in thinking through what supplies they will need for their activity, how to obtain those supplies and how they will set up the supplies.
  • Make sure middle school girls know what is expected of them, including who is doing what and where/when to show up on the day of the event.
  • Coordinate with the elementary afterschool program leaders to ensure that logistics are covered. Things to consider are scheduling, room reservations, transportation, notifying parents, etc..
  • Have the middle school girls create a fun flyer or banner to advertise and generate excitement about the event.
  • Consider having snacks and/or take home goodies as part of the event.
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