Representation matters — especially to students.
This is why Kopachuck Middle School teacher Sherryl Peterson had her sixth and seventh grade students complete research projects about 37 different female scientists and connect the achievements of those scientists to their own lives.
“Middle school is a time period where it’s make it or break it with science, especially with girls,” Peterson explained. “It’s nice for middle school girls and middle school boys to see the contributions women have made to science.”
Peterson put a Women of Science display together — featuring the research project along with some science books and scientific equipment — as a way to share the projects with the rest of the school and to recognize March as Women’s History Month.
Middle school is a time period where it’s make it or break it with science, especially with girls. It’s nice for middle school girls, and middle school boys, to see the contributes women have made to science.
Sherryl Peterson, Kopachuck Middle School Science teacher
“There’s a lot more in the news about women in science,” she said. “STEM is such a big focus now. Having girls realize science, mathematics, technology and engineering go together and what they can contribute ... and the boys to see that science is a human endeavor.”
Kopachuck Principal Heidi Fedore said that the display has been a hit with both students and families coming into the school.
“I like that there was an assignment around that, so that students, both males and females, would see that women have made some really amazing contributions,” Fedore said. Why not, in middle school, start getting both genders thinking that this is a place for both men and women in research.”
It’s not just a bunch of white guys with pocket protectors. Women have been involved in everything.
Keith Garton, Kopachuck Middle School Science teacher
Peterson’s work on the display was self-motivated and an example of the teacher’s dedication to her students, Fedore said.
Peterson is quick to point out that all four science teachers at the school work hard to encourage and motivate their students in science, especially female students since women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields.
Kopachuck science teacher Keith Garton agreed that challenging and motivating students with STEM during middle school is key to capturing student interest, but so is showing the diversity of scientists.
“It’s not just a bunch of white guys with pocket protectors,” he said. “Women have been involved in everything.”
Encouraging female students in STEM fields is not limited to Kopachuck, but is a district-wide effort with the return of CAPE — Career And Pathway Expo — a district-wide girls STEM conference that will return for its third year on Saturday (April 1).
“I continue to read information about how women in tech or scientific fields is still scarce. They’re underrepresented,” Fedore said. “I just think that middle school is that time when kids are really starting to form their identity. I think that helping them show they’re represented is really important.”
Peterson agreed: “In middle school it’s nice to see models where ‘that could be me’ can happen.”