Encouraging more girls to take up science professions is a multifaceted process that begins with providing accessible and likeable role models. The women we encounter as children provide the first clues to what our future could hold. These women may be real or literary, and come to us either through life experiences or stories that we hear, read or see.
Studies have shown, however, that very few women are represented in science, and even fewer are given problem-solving and leadership roles. This means that when we are browsing shelves to choose books for our children to read, we struggle to find any that highlight how women have contributed to scientific discoveries and technological inventions in the past.
Additionally, we have very little fictional material that helps us imagine what girls’ future contribution could be. In fact, the United Nations observes that women scientists are leading groundbreaking research across the world and yet they remain grossly underrepresented.
A report published in 2018 shows that “despite their remarkable discoveries, women still represent just 33.3 per cent of researchers globally, and their work rarely gains the recognition it deserves. Only three per cent of Nobel Prizes for science have ever been awarded to women, and only 11 per cent of senior research roles are held by women in Europe”.
Some publishers and children’s authors are addressing the issue by releasing biographical books and series. These include titles such as Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories by Kate Pankhurst; Women in Science: Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky; and Black Women in Science: A Black History Book for Kids by Kimberly Brown Pellum.
Others are releasing fictional picture books for very young children, such as Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie; Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola; and Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.
This is a great start but it is not enough. In order to truly offer a gateway into the worlds and professions of science and technology, the idea of women participating and even leading needs to be integrated into daily practices.
A straightforward way of achieving this is to provide primary school teachers with tailor-made resources that easily tie into the curriculum.
“Keen to address this issue, I led a three-year research project to create 12 curriculum-based stories featuring female leads in collaboration with Esplora Interactive Science Centre, Kalkara and Seven Stories, the national centre for children’s books in Newcastle, UK.” Giuliana Fenech
The story pack, titled Parallel Universe, complete with printables and audios, covers topics such as planets, electricity, global warming, weather cycles, germination, biodiversity and migration, among others.
Each story presents a female child character who is faced with a problem that requires a scientific solution. The child learns how to observe the situation, ask questions, explore different possible solutions, reach out for help and share what they learn with others – skills that are not only valuable in science but also in life.
The pack not only carefully considers the characters and plots of each story but is also designed with optimised pedagogical value in mind. Each story can be read or listened to over and over again, and both teachers and parents are offered prompts to discuss the outcomes further.
Experiments, games, puzzles and role play are among the activities that help to bring the stories to life and consolidate learning.
Watching their young fictional counterparts embrace curiosity and creativity encourages and inspires young children to follow suit, and in a world full of complex problems that require global collaboration and solution-oriented thinking, we can no longer afford to talk about equipping future generations with the right toolkits and mindsets.
We have to start now. Parallel Universe is a step in that direction.
To download the science storytelling pack, visit the website below.
Giuliana Fenech is a senior lecturer at the University of Malta’s Department of English. This project is a collaboration between Lignin Stories and Esplora Interactive Science Centre and is co-funded by the EU Erasmusplus programme.
source: Times of Malta