We’ve made a new discovery recently: the TV show SciGirls on PBS Kids. Does everyone else already know about this? It’s an outstanding example of “science for girls” done right. We’ve only seen two episodes so far, but Alex, Colin, and I are all hooked.
Each episode has a frame story in which a cartoon girl has a problem she needs to solve. She calls on the “SciGirls” to help – different teams of four tween-aged live-action girls who are using science tools to solve a related real-world challenge. For example, one episode involves an art show in which various artists have designed ice fishing shanties on a frozen lake. The SciGirls work to design and install insulation for the info booth shanty so it won’t be quite as cold.
The creators have obviously paid careful attention to research about girls’ interest and participation in science. Science is portrayed as a social activity – the girls work together as a team, have fun together, and comment on their social processes. They use science to support a concrete practical goal. And because role models have been found to be highly important for girls, in each episode, they seek out a female scientist to mentor them.
As a working scientist, I am particularly impressed with how process-oriented the show is. We see the girls making and correcting mistakes, navigating disagreements between team members about how to proceed, handling unexpected obstacles, and learning to use novel equipment. We see their plans, hand-drawn in colored marker using ordinary-kid levels of neatness and artistic ability. We see them using tools and working together to lift heavy or awkward things. In an episode in which the girls learn to take a wildlife population survey, we see them progress from their initial tentative squeamishness to confident expertise. We even see how they find a mentor, Googling for local scientists working in a particular area and e-mailing people to ask for advice. The show makes the activities of science seem totally accessible.
We don’t get broadcast TV, but a number of episodes are available online at the SciGirls website, or you can download episodes for free from the iTunes store. Check it out!