Designing research-based afterschool science programs for girls

By Bronwyn Bevan - March 2011


Lyon, G., & Jafri, J. (2010). Project Exploration's Sisters4Science. Afterschool Matters, 11,15–22.

This article describes an afterschool science program targeting girls from communities underrepresented in the sciences. The authors argue for the need for such programs to build on relevant girl-specific research findings, which they summarize in the article. This article provides a highly condensed overview of research findings and illustrates how the authors have applied these findings to their program design. It could be of interest to ISE educators seeking to design STEM programs for girls.

The authors note that, in addition to the many well-documented factors that discourage participation of underrepresented groups in science studies and fields, urban minority girls "face social and cultural stereotypes that can steer them away from science, engineering, and math—both in and out of school" (p. 16). Despite decades of focused work to expand girls' participation in STEM fields, women today only make up 25% of scientists in the United States, and women of color represent just 2% of the total. The authors argue that a lack of attention to girl-specific research and design elements is at least partly to blame.

Citing earlier studies (e.g., Mead et al., 2000), the authors note that research suggests that girls' science programs should:

  1. Be designed with girls' experiences and strengths in mind;
  2. Be run by adult women who can serve as role models;
  3. Help girls recognize and develop strategies for addressing the inequities they will face;
  4. Help girls to respect themselves and one another;
  5. Help girls to learn the importance of working together with other girls;
  6. Help girls develop positive relationships with other women;
  7. Help girls learn about the different roles women play in workplace, home, and community; and
  8. Fill the gap that other community institutions (schools, families, etc.) do not.

Sisters4Science, based in Chicago, was designed with these features in mind. Targeting middle school girls, it involves several different program components, including a summer institute, an annual conference, and various program activities that connect girls with women scientists. The article describes the Sisters4Science program elements in some detail—including recruitment, journaling strategies, and program evaluation approaches—as well as a qualitative snapshot of program activities.

See Mead, M., & Boston Women's Fund. (2000). Integrating vision and reality: Possibilities for urban girls programs. Boston, MA: Boston Women's Fund, for the original paper explaining these characteristics.

See National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2002).Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, for a core list of attributes of youth programs that has served as the basis for many sets of youth/afterschool characteristics or design principles such as the ones cited in this paper.