One of my favorite things about Eureka is the daily “Woman in STEM” lesson. During every lesson, we take about five minutes to highlight a woman that is relevant to what we are teaching that day. During our mechanical engineering and design week we taught about a Disney engineer in our class, and during our electrical engineering week we showed a video about a high school student inventor that won national science fairs and scholarships with her creations. The hopes with this is to obviously show the young students that women do have important roles and contributions in the STEM world and hopefully provide them with some role models and inspiration.
During the final day of our electrical engineering week, we were presenting the final flashlight projects that they had created and we were learning about applications of light in general. For the “Woman in STEM” that day, Karen and I told the students about Rosalind Franklin, the brilliant scientist who had discovered the double helix structure of DNA by utilizing x-ray crystallography. Sadly, but not surprisingly, none of the girls in the class knew who this essential scientist was.
This could have been in part, because they were seventh graders who have not taken biology yet, but also because Rosalind Franklin is not typically recognized as the main founder of this ground breaking scientific discovery. She is seen as someone who provided proof and background information for the two male scientists, Watson and Crick, to base their discovery off of.
When we explained the controversial history of the discovery of this structure and Franklin not getting her fair credit, the class was immediately reactive. This turned our science lesson into the first discussion on feminism that I have been able to have with these young students. Girls were asking why people did not respect Franklin more or her work when she was alive, why the male scientists were able to steal her photos and not get any punishment, and one student even asked when and how sexism was started.
Unfortunately, we had to direct the conversation back towards light applications, but this quickly became one of my favorite days at Eureka so far. These young women showing their unacceptance of inequality and questioning the society around them made me so proud and so excited to be able to have more of these conversations as the weeks go on. Although our main job is to develop and facilitate science lessons at Eureka this summer, I was hopeful some of these topics would come up, and that this camp would allow us to teach the girls so much more.