Offering Girls an Online Science Resources

By Sean Cavanagh — March 16, 2009 2 min read
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Many organizations have taken a strong interest in increasing young girls’ engagement in math and science, as a hook to leading them into “STEM"-oriented fields and careers. The congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences is trying to do its part through a web site, “I Was Wondering,” which seeks to introduce female students to the possibility of science careers, and to the curiosities of the scientific world.

To date, the site has offered a number of resources for girls, including the biographies of female scientists in different fields, who talk about what they do in their work, day after day. They idea is to show girls that a scientific career is not only a feasible option, but a desirable one. The site also includes ideas for labs that can be used by teachers.

Now the site has added a feature that allows young students to submit questions about science and have them answered by a scientists. It’s a moderated forum called “Ask It!” in which students can write in with questions about science, vote on which questions they would like to see answered by experts in the field. The Academies staff say they have arranged for scientists from around the country to post responses to selected inquiries.

The web site includes ideas for teachers on how they can use Ask It! their classes, not just for individual students, but for group activities. Here are some other links to online science resources for students and teachers, sponsored by federal agencies, museums and others.

My question: What other moderated science forums for students are out there? What makes them valuable? How could they be improved?

UPDATE: I was curious about how scientists were chosen to answer questions on the site. Terrell Smith, who works on the project for the National Academies, told me in an e-mail that while the process is still being refined, it begins with the Ask It! team checking to see which questions have received the most votes. The team then matches the question with a scientist in the appropriate field. The scientist might from one of the Academies’ institutions (the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, or the Institute of Medicine), an in-house National Academies staff member/scientist, or another expert with whom the Academies have connections.

“Currently the Ask It! Team creates an account for the scientist and posts the answer on his or her behalf,” Smith told me. “But for each posting, the scientist identified as the expert answering the question has been involved one-on-one with a member of the Ask It! Team to prepare the answer. We review each scientist’s response and in most cases we also have an education consultant review the answers for age appropriateness before they are posted.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.