I’m so proud that Project Scientist has been inspiring girls ages four to twelve to be curious about and confident in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) for six years. In fact, many of the girls that started with us six years ago, literally in my backyard in Charlotte, North Carolina, are still with our program today. Several of our students have even been honored with international awards in problem solving from the Future Problem Solving Program International. Key to our program of empowering girls in STEAM, is to drive scientific innovation through the use of the arts, which increases their confidence, develops their ability to embrace failure, and allows them to gain a deeper understanding of traditional math or science topics.
Several years ago a few of our students participated on a panel to inform teachers about girl’s interests in science and to describe their favorite experiments at Project Scientist’s Summer Academy on university campuses. I was surprised and proud to hear all of our girls agree that their favorite activity was designing, engineering, and testing a bridge that they built out of Popsicle sticks. The girls stated that this project was their favorite because it was challenging! They even laughed when describing how many mistakes they made and how much frustration they experienced while re-engineering their design in an attempt to make it withstand specified weight and water pressure. A few of the girls admitted that by the last day they still hadn’t quite been able to get their design to work how they had hoped it would, but they were excited to see other teams’ results, learn from each other, and even continue the project at home.
As an organization, we learned that by incorporating the engineering design process with a hands-on art and architecture activity, we promoted girls’ curiosity in how bridges are designed and gave them a deeper understanding of engineering. And, of course, we built girls’ confidence through encouraging failure and in the end, promoting innovation!
As the founder of Project Scientist and the parent of two young girls that are curious scientists, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from subject matter experts, females in the STEAM field, and educators. We cannot dismiss the impact of arts education and experiences when it comes to STEM. In fact, in a Michigan State University research study, “a team of multidisciplinary researchers studied a group of MSU Honors College graduates from 1990 to 1995 who majored in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, or STEM. They found of that group, those who own businesses or patents received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.”
In addition to arts driving innovation and confidence in STEM subjects, at Project Scientist we use the arts to reinforce STEM concepts and key-learning objectives and goals. For example, each day at our summer academy, our girls have one hour of arts integration. During “Energy Week,” girls worked with artists to produce a spoken word performance with poems they wrote, focused on energy concepts and the environment. For “Flight Week,” girls participated in five hours of dance instruction with a professional dance team. The team took our curriculum and designed the “flight of dance,” where girls created a performance using their bodies to simulate flight concepts. For “Chemistry Week,” girls worked with an illustrator to design comic books where chemistry experiments go awry, and girls imagined themselves as STEAM superheroes to save the day! Finally, during “Coding Week,” girls designed fine art pieces using beading and patterns, simulating code. We find the incorporation of arts into our program not only drives innovation but also allows a variety of learners to grasp key STEM concepts in their own way, including body movement, fine art, written art and performance art.
Two other ways we embrace the arts at Project Scientist is through our “Expedition and Superstar” programs. Each week during our summer academy, girls go on STEAM expeditions to companies and universities. This summer, our Caltech campers visited Wet Design, where sustainability directors, artists, and even yoga and dance teachers work with engineers to choreograph water movements set to music for international hotels and monuments. Finally, each morning at our academy, students are introduced to a female STEAM professional who inspires girls to overcome challenges and pursue their dreams. This also allows our girls to see someone who was once like them, now thriving in a STEAM profession. STEAM “superstars” represent a variety of fields including including arts, design, photography, and communications, all with a science focus, which demonstrates to girls that there are a wide variety of career options that can lead to a bright, successful and rewarding future.
Raising Curious & Confident Kids is a new blog series geared towards ushering in the next generation of leaders in science, tech, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). How can we give children the curiosity to question and more confidence to create? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.