Winning teaching project fosters young scientists

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Children start out with a natural, burning curiosity about the world around them and how it works. However, when they approach adolescence, girls often back away from science, math and technology, studies have shown.

North Star Elementary School teacher Diane McBee decided to do something to counteract that trend. She is drawing on her background in biology to start a science club targeted at girls.

Last week, the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation announced McBee was selected as a 2000-01 Eleanor Roosevelt Teacher Fellow. The award includes a $7,000 grant.

Only 12 other teachers nationwide received the honor, dedicated to launching innovative projects to improve girls' achievement in scientific subjects.

McBee said her motivation came from watching her daughter's experiences growing up and from her own interest in science.

"It's my passion," she said. "I want to spread my passion around."

Last year, McBee won an additional $5,000 grant for the project from the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation.

"I've had other grants and stuff for little kids, but this is the first time I've branched out," she said.

The group began meeting every Thursday after school starting three weeks ago. The girls have been investigating earthworms, applying scientific comparisons to bubble gum performance and learning about fingerprints and their relation to genetics, she said.

About 25 girls in grades four through six have been attending. Two high school girls are working as teachers' aides. The girls still have not decided what to name their club.

Boys could join in, McBee said, but they haven't. And the girls have been enjoying having the project all to themselves.

"All the parents have been real supportive, too," she said.

To get the project up and running, McBee is investing in some equipment and set up. As required under the terms of the AAUW award, she will use some of the money for tuition to update her own knowledge of the fields. Later in the year she plans field trips to places such as the Alaska Challenger Learning Center in Kenai and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

McBee is eager to involve peninsula people with the club, especially women who work in science and technology.

As the club evolves, the students will move from hands-on exploration toward research and presentations. She plans to involve the students with real projects connected to peninsula issues and to set up mentorships with adult role models.

"Eventually I would like to expand it through community schools or whatever," she said. "I know my school isn't the only one that needs this type of thing."

For more information or to volunteer to help the club, call McBee at 776-5575.

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