Risk-Taking Urged To Spur Girls’ Interest in Science

June 12, 1991 1 min read

Adults should encourage girls to “take risks” and to engage in “messy” activities to help them develop an interest in science and mathematics and learn to overcome their reluctance to take intellectual gambles, according to a new study of girls’ involvement in science and math activities.

“While girls showed some initial reluctance when faced with the unfamiliar, with minimal adult encouragement and modeling they soon set to exploring everything from snakes to environmental chemistry,” according to “The Explorer’s Pass: A Report on Case Studies of Girls and Math, Science, and Technology.”

The 161-page report was released last week by the New York-based Girls Inc., formerly the Girls Clubs of America.

The title refers to a wooden token that girls at one facility where the study was carried out were required to carry if they wished to venture from room to room when programs were in session.

The study, underwritten by a grant from the Ford Foundation, was conducted by Julie D. Frederick and Heather Johnston Nicholson, both researchers at the organization’s National Resource Center.

It indicates that the girls studied often found the idea of making mistakes, even in the context of forming hypotheses, to be a “terrifying” experience.

And it notes that “in the absence of specific commitments to involve girls with math, science, and technology, girls are systematically if inadvertently deprived of many such opportunities.”

Overcoming ‘Wimpy Behavior’

The research was conducted over a two-year period at three Girls Inc. centers as part of the resource center’s Operation smart--or Science, Math, and Relevant Technology--research project.

The centers were selected for their diversity in geographic location, the racial and ethnic background of the girls they serve, and the extent of their involvement in Operation smart.

The report also indicates that adult expectations and subliminal clues often served to dissuade girls from taking risks in order to learn.

But it also argues that “adult encouragement and modeling also seemed to be key to overcoming ‘wimpy behavior,’ a reluctance to get dirty, and a tendency to ask for adult rescue when a task seemed difficult or boring.”

Copies of the report may be ordered for $12 each plus $2 postage and handling, from the Girls Inc. National Resource Center, 441 West Michigan St., Indianapolis, Ind. 46202.--pw

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 1991 edition of Education Week as Risk-Taking Urged To Spur Girls’ Interest in Science