Assume girls are interested in math, science and technology. Too many girls -- and children of color -- still get the message that math and science aren't for them. Given encouragement and the right setting, girls jump at the chance to dismantle machines, build rockets, care for and study insects and small animals, and solve logic puzzles. Encouraging girls to learn and experiment -- to take risks and learn by doing -- helps them feel empowered and self-confident enough to try things they otherwise would not try. But many of the adults who help them must first overcome their own acquired resistance to, or dread of, science and technology.
Girls -- indeed, most students -- respond best to hands-on science. A great way to squelch their interest in science is to "demonstrate" it while they watch. Another is to play "guess the right answer," as if all they can do is master a completed body of knowledge (a useless quest as scientific knowledge routinely becomes outdated). In most schools, teachers need a chance to experience hands-on science education before they can figure out how to engage students in it. Hands-on workshops can give them, too, the chance to experiment, be messy, make mistakes and capture the spirit of scientific inquiry. And getting parents involved in hands-on activities (such as making two batches of ice cream, using different amounts of salt, and comparing the rate at which the batches freeze) helps them understand that engaging in science is much more than avoiding wrong answers on a test. Getting caught up in their children's science activities sometimes lights fires and opens doors for the mothers, too.