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September 28, 2007

We Need A Name For It

Thanks to Wayfarer Scientista for hosting this month's Scientiae Carnival and for suggesting mentoring for a theme. I've been very fortunate in both the mentors I've had and in the people to whom I've been able to provide some mentoring. Both types of relationships are useful and important; but I think the best thing is when the mentor/mentee relationship morphs into something else; something where the power dynamic (and heaven knows there is a big power dynamic in mentoring) blurs and sometimes even goes away. In this new relationship sometimes you learn from and are corrected by the other person; other times you are the one doing the teaching and correcting and you have each other's back.

I don't have a name for this relationship—it's not colleagues; it's much more than that. Neither is it a friendship, although often deep and lasting friendships are a part it. Whatever it is called when you have it, you know it and your work and your life are better for it. My goal is to move as many as possible of my mentor/mentee relationships to this relationship and who knows maybe even figure out a name for it.

PS I wanted to name names but was worried I would leave someone out. So thank you all—you know who you are (at least I hope you do).

September 25, 2007

Math Doesn't Suck: A Review

A while ago I promised you a review of Math Doesn't Suck a book by actress and mathematician Danica McKellar . Since the book is for middle school girls, we thought the best person to review it would be a middle school girl. Many thanks to Rebecca Taylor for the following review.

Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. By Danica McKellar

The title says it all. This book is for girls ages 11 to 16 who want a better understanding of math. It reads like a math text book smashed with a teen magazine. There are quick quizzes, a horoscope, and other fun activities that make learning math interesting and exciting. I highly suggest having this book handy while doing math homework; it’s an excellent reference. You don’t have to read the book cover to cover, though, and I wouldn’t recommend doing so. It’s best to read relevant sections when needed and take the time to work through the problems.

You will learn math from simple division to complex fractions and algebra. The concepts McKellar talks about seem scary at first but she gives them fun titles such as “Why Calculators Would Make Terrible Boyfriends” and “Does She Ever Get Off the Phone?” and once you read the chapter, the concept is not scary at all. The explanations are fun and simple. McKellar uses examples that everyone can relate to, like how much a dress costs if it was originally $60 and is now 20% off. She really breaks down the problem solving, with step-by-step explanations. Not only are the instructions super easy to follow, but McKellar also has side comments including “What’s It Called?” (where definitions are given) and “Watch Out” (where she explains common mistakes to avoid).

The “Doing the Math” section provides a chance to work out the problems discussed in each chapter. McKellar writes out problems in her own handwriting so you can see her methods and follow the steps. If all those resources weren’t enough, she provides helpful charts and other memorization charts. If you still are confused or want to add a comment, she has a Web address that you can use. I recommend this book as an excellent resource for middle school girls.

Review by Rebecca Taylor, age 12

September 22, 2007

Some days I'm depressed there are so few women in engineering;

other days I'm amazed that so many women have been able to make it through all the barriers. Today it is the latter and I blame Tonka Trucks.

Last night an ad came on TV showing that Tonka Trucks are for boys and explaining that boys are sooooo different from girls (meaning, I guess, you shouldn't buy girls Tonka Trucks). I was surprised that a company would want to limit its market so much, so I went to the Tonka website to see what I could find.

Ok now I'm depressed. Search the website for "boy" and you get

Find the right Tonka toy for your boy! Tonka features great products like...
...Big Boy Tonka Gear WHEEL PALS The friendly fleet of WHEEL PALS vehicles are the perfect little buddies for your budding truck fan....

Search on girl and you get (I swear I am not making this up!)

My Little Pony Memory Game
My Little Pony Rainbow Dash Cake DecSet
My Little Pony Rainbow Dash Cake With Edible Image

Oh yes you also get links to Parenting Tips for Parents of Boys by Tonka and Play Perspectives - Play Tips for Mom and Dad Provided by Tonka where parents "Learn how incorporating Tonka truck play can help in a nurturing a young boy."

And before you ask, no Tonka has no "Parenting Tips for Parents of Girls" and yes the "Play Perspectives" are for boys only. . Guess cake decorating and eating just isn't that hard.

PS Alfred J. Verrecchia is the CEO of Tonka's parent company, Hasbro (1027 Newport Ave. Pawtucket, RI 02861 401-431-8697).

September 19, 2007

If you want innovation, bring on a diverse team

"If you want to create a really useful invention, make sure you have both women and men on your development team."

So leads Patenting the Co-Ed Code in Forbes Magazine last week. This article covers the recent study from National Center for Women & Information Technology, titled Who Invents IT?". The executive summary can be found here.

It seems obvious to say that diversity of thought is an important element in innovative work at all levels, but the NCWIT study gives us data to back up that intuitive claim. I always find this sort of thing very satisfying, because it does seem obvious, and it's the kind of research that people will often read and then say, "They needed a study to tell them that?" Of course, we all know that the things that seem obvious often aren't as we expect, but I sure would love to hear people talking about this in those terms.

"Well, duh, diverse teams of people come up with more innovative solutions and ideas. Only an idiot would think a team of people with the same background and experience could effectively think outside the box." Yes, I'd like to overhear that the next time I'm out for dinner.

September 16, 2007

I’ve stood around too long

I read an article today from the Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald that gave me more hope for the future than I've had for a while. On the first day of school, a 9th grade boy wore a pink shirt. As the article says he "was set upon by a group of six to 10 older students who mocked him, called him a homosexual for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up."

Sadly this kind of response to people breaking gender roles is not unusual. And women, especially women in science, know it Indeed one of my first thoughts was about
Female Science Professor's post on a campus police officer's response to a strange man who had been stalking her on campus. The title of her post: "Science Lady Asked For It.

However, as I said, the article about the pink shirt gave me hope. Two senior boys decided that this bullying was unacceptable and did something about it. "They used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear… They also brought a pink basketball to school as well as pink material for headbands and arm bands. [They] figure about half the school’s 830 students wore pink." One of leaders said he did it because "I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do something."

Now that is message we at FairerScience would like to see spread far and wide.

September 14, 2007

PBS Design Squad

I grew up enjoying Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Zoom on PBS. (Catch me home sick and you’ll find me tuned in to PBS laughing and psyched that they do such a good job educating kids and families—FYI: I don’t have kids at home!) A few months ago, I came across Design Squad , one of the newer shows on PBS that’s aimed at getting kids (and others like me) excited about engineering. It’s a reality show with each episode pitting eight high school students against one another (often as teams) as they try to find solutions for engineering challenges—for example, how can a women’s collective in Haiti make peanut butter at little overhead cost; i.e. without electricity and heavy machinery. It’s creative, entertaining, and engaging.

I recently spoke with Susan Buckey at the WGBH Educational Foundation, one of the program sponsors. I noted that the program really did a great job to connect with the female contestants (and audience). Susan said one reason for this is because PBS relied on data from a needs assessment through the Extraordinary Women Engineers Project to develop the script and tasks. The goals of the needs assessment were to gauge high school girls’ interest, assess career motivators, and explore messaging opportunities. Good data came out of it.

Design Squad, as most of the children’s programming on PBS, offers kids, parents, educators and other professionals excellent resources on its website. Tune in or log on and see for yourself!

Posted by Pat for Donna

September 12, 2007

Ok it's 22 years old; but it's free

In 1985 a whole bunch of us published the Handbook for Achieving Sex Equity through Education. A huge book (over 500 pages) it was an incredibly comprehensive look at research and practice on sex equity in education. Of course "Increasing the Participation and Achievement of Girls and Women in Mathematics, Science, and Engineering" is a chapter as are 24 other areas including: Economic Considerations for Achieving Sex Equity through Education, Sex Equity as a Philosophical Problem, The New Scholarship on Women, Facts and Assumptions about the Nature of Sex Differences, Educational Equity and Sex Role Development and Administrative Strategies for Institutionalizing Sex Equity in Education and the Role of Government.

It's quite a book and you can get a PDF of it here. Oh ok, it's a PDF of a xeroxed copy of the book, but hey the book is from 1985, when we used to write using quill pens, parchment and Wangwriters.

PS An update, Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity Through Education came out this spring, but that one is so not free

September 07, 2007

Title IX: No It's Not Just About Sports

Here is a little known secret about me, I'm a jock. I used to do triathlons, have ridden my bike from Boston to New York (twice) and swam across the Hudson River last month. I've been so pleased by the increased roles women play in sport and realize that Title IX deserves much of the credit.

So what is Title IX you ask? It is a law, passed 35 years ago, that says "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." So did you get that part about "ANY education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance"? It's not just about sports. It can and should be about science, technology, engineering and math education.

Two years ago, in a statement at the conformation of Secretary Margaret Spellings, Senator Ron Wyden pointed out:

"Before Title IX, one in 17 girls in school played sports. Now it’s one in 2.5, or 40 percent. Imagine if those same changes could be seen in math, science and engineering from the 20 percent of science undergraduates who are women today, to 40 percent or even 50 percent. From the six percent of engineering professors who are women today, to 40 percent."

He went on to say:

"The potential of Title IX is enormous. Enforcing it in these fields could revolutionize the study and application of math and science in this country. Educators of good conscience should not wait for a Federal reprimand to comply with this Federal law that ultimately benefits us all. Title IX should be a guiding principle in hiring, tenure,
scholarships, and lab space for all scholars."

Sounds good to me!

PS Thanks to Ruta Sevo and Cheryl Fillekes for pushing us to think more about these issues.

September 04, 2007

Want to help inundate?

Yesterday I received the following e-mail:

"I recently read an article "Girls Are... Boys Are... : Myths, Stereotypes & Gender Differences" that you have on the Internet as my father and I were (still are) having a heated discussion about male vs female intellect. He printed and laid a copy of an article "Male Versus Female Intelligence: Does Gender Matter?" by Alice A. McCarthy, MBA on my lap top. I in turn, laid you article in front of him. As I said earlier, this argument will probably last until the end of time, but, I was still wondering if it were possible for you to inundate him with all of your research and facts."

I've sent on some things including the following paragraph I wrote 15 years ago

It is possible to create or eliminate the sex differences in test scores in content areas or in "intelligence" by selecting different test items. For example the 1942 revision of the Stanford Binet had as its aim to "produce a scale which will yield comparable I.Q.s for the sexes." To do this the authors accepted the hypotheses that large sex differences on items are likely to reflect sex differences in experience or training and "sought to avoid using test items showing large sex differences in percents passing." These test developers were aware that "intellect can be defined and measured in such a manner as to make either sex appear superior."

Any suggestions? I'll be happy to pass them on.

September 03, 2007

Unleash your inner reader

This month's Scientiae Carnival , with the theme unleash, is up at Thus Spake Zuska .

You have to go read it. Zuska's done a great job and she had much good material to draw from. Kate's manifesto "The unleashed female scientist" should be read by everyone, everywhere.