With public schools going online or sending home paper packets, how do you get kindergarteners excited about science? How do you let them know that girls can be scientists?
For the past three years, Girls Launch! has connected kindergarten children with women role models in science. Girls Launch! was started in 2017 by graduate student Caitlin Colleary in partnership with Virginia Tech’s Center for Communicating Science and Department of Psychology.
When the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in schoolchildren being sent home, however, the science visits to local schools had to be suspended. This summer, “Girls Launch! Kindergarten Science Outreach Continuation and Expansion” gave 10 graduate students the chance to share their research in kindergarten-friendly science videos and activity guides.
Funded by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), the project provided stipends to the graduate students to support their work over the summer. The ten videos and activity guides produced will be shared with the Giles County Girls Launch! outreach program, along with public schools in Montgomery County, Floyd County, and Radford City.
Throughout the summer, the graduate students met with their project team over Zoom. During their meetings, they
- met with a kindergarten teacher and a public-school STEM coordinator,
- connected to childhood memories and thought about what brought them joy,
- practiced “distilling their message,”
- learned voice exercises and warmups, and
- received feedback from other participants.
They were also given resources for video production and kindergarten learning tools. In a survey following the project, participants said they enjoyed the “supportive community,” with many of them citing the helpfulness of discussing the projects as a group.
Not only are these graduate students sharing their STEM knowledge with kindergarten students, they developed skills useful for science communication. Follow-up survey comments included
- “I love making science communication videos!”
- “I really enjoy video editing!”
- “I learned more about being versatile in the ways I can share information about my science.”
- “I learned that although we have grown up, our brains still operate like they did when we were 5 years old, especially regarding attention span, what engages us, and the need to keep the message simple!”
- “I saw that it was OK to play like a child sometimes.”
- “I learned the importance of science communication and now I strongly support that science communication should be a part of every scientist’s academic curriculum.”
About the 10 graduate students and their science videos:
Udaya Sree Datla is pursuing a Ph.D. in Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health from Virginia Tech. She introduced students to her field through her video, Infections, Germs and Immune Cells. Along with the video she provided an activity guide for an experiment titled “Paper Microfludics.”
Khanh To is pursuing a Ph.D. in Geosciences from Virginia Tech. In her video, Meet a Paleontologist, and activity guide, “Build-A-Bird,” she introduces students to her field of vertebrate paleontology.
Allison Castaneda is pursuing a Ph.D. in Translational Biology, Medicine and Health from Virginia Tech. She taught students about her study of fruit flies, brains, and behavior in her video, Senses, The Brain, and Bugs and her activity guide, “Brain Coloring, Neurons, and Senses.”
Amber Wendler is pursuing a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Virginia Tech. Students were able to learn about birds, behavior, and evolution in her video, Let’s Talk Birds and in her activity guide, “Let’s Learn About Bird Beaks.”
Abigail Lewis is pursuing a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Virginia Tech. She takes students to the Falling Creek Reservoir in her video, Let’s Learn About Lakes. Her video and activity guide, “Water Cycle in a Cup,” introduces students to her field of water and climate change.
Jennifer Appiah-Kubi is pursuing a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech, where her field of study is cybersecurity for power grids. Students learn about rainbows in her video, How Rainbows Are Formed, and in her activity guide, “Making a Rainbow!”
Kaitlin Read is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from Ohio State, where she moved when her advisor left Virginia Tech for a new job. She teaches students about the immune system in her video, Immunology. She further teaches the importance of personal hygiene in her activity guide titled “Why We Wash Our Hands.”
Amelia Tankersley is pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology from Virginia Tech, where she studies resilience, coping skills, and mindfulness. In her video, Mindfulness, and her activity guide, “Keep Calm Like a Deep Sea Diver,” she gives students tips on mindfulness.
Ellen Garcia is pursuing a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Virginia Tech, where she studies microscopy and cell biology. In her video, Getting Outside with a Scientist, she shows students the science in their own backyards. Her activity guide, “A Lesson on Close Observation,” helps students explore the world around them.
Dr. Sarah Khatibzadeh is a veterinarian who obtained a master’s degree in biomedical and veterinary sciences from Virginia Tech in 2019 and is now working on her Ph.D. She takes students to the stables and the lab in her video, Biofilms in Horses, and her accompanying activity guide teaches students about her field of veterinary medicine, infection, and biofilms.
For additional information
For additional information about the Girls Launch! summer project, you can find a short video and project description at the ICAT website. A paper titled “Are Scientists Smart? Kindergarteners’ Gendered Understanding and Use of Descriptors About Science and Intelligence” recently published in Science Communication describes the early findings of the related research project.
By Sarah Propst, Center for Communicating Science student intern