22 September 2016

New grant taps into MagLab's educational expertise

A SciGirl uses a radio antenna during a field trip at Tall Timbers Research Station to search for banded birds. A SciGirl uses a radio antenna during a field trip at Tall Timbers Research Station to search for banded birds. Stephen Bilenky

A new three-year, $1.2 million grant will change the way girls are taught science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in informal educational settings around the country.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory's (National MagLab) education team is a partner in a new grant supporting the Twin Cities PBS SciGirls CONNECT, a broad national outreach effort that encourages educators to adopt research-based strategies to engage girls in STEM. Awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the project will examine how gender equitable and culturally responsive teaching strategies influence middle school girls’ confidence, interest and motivation around STEM studies, and ultimately, their choices around STEM careers.

SciGirls is an Emmy-award winning PBS show, website and outreach program geared toward engaging girls between the ages of 8 and 13 in STEM. SciGirls CONNECT is a community of more than 140 educational partner organizations across 34 states and Puerto Rico that provides training and resources for administering SciGirls programs. One such resource is a set of strategies, called the SciGirls Seven, which help educators engage girls through collaboration, creativity, open-ended activities, critical thinking and role modeling.

Roxanne Hughes and Kari Roberts.Roxanne Hughes (left) and Kari Roberts.

MagLab experts in STEM education, Dr. Roxanne Hughes, Director of Education and Diversity Initiatives at the MagLab, and Kari Roberts, Evaluation Coordinator, are leading the research portion of the grant. They will evaluate educators' perception and implementation of the SciGirls Seven strategies, conduct a literature review of the latest gender equity research and implement a research study to investigate the impact of the strategies on girl's STEM identity formation.

"SciGirls CONNECT has demonstrated continued evidence based success in improving all girls' interest in STEM careers," said Hughes. "Our own SciGirls program is what attracted me to the MagLab and I am incredibly honored to be leading the research team, which includes Kari Roberts and myself, on this project."

Ultimately, the grant aims to update and enrich the SciGirls Seven, providing more than 2,500 educators within the SciGirls partner network with a more effective resource to motivate girls in STEM studies and careers. The updated set of strategies and the research behind them will also be shared with the National Girls Collaborative Network of 18,000 STEM educational organizations and through PBS Learning Media, which reaches 1.5 million teachers.

The National MagLab has hosted a local SciGirls camp in partnership with WFSU for more than a decade reaching over 300 girls in the Tallahassee community. A recent study by Hughes of a group of former SciGirls showed that half went on to major in a STEM field, while most of the non-STEM majors incorporated STEM in their chosen fields, such as early childhood education and music therapy.

Twin Cities PBS, the lead recipient of the grant, will engage 16 geographically-diverse partners in this grant effort that have been trained on the use of SciGirls Seven. The partners reach youth in all-girls and co-ed informal STEM educational environments and more than half serve Hispanic or other minority populations. Dr. Hughes will lead the research on the impacts of these programs on participants' STEM identity. Part of this research will include the quantitative comparison between pre- and post- surveys for participants in the 16 programs, as well as in-depth case studies of a sample of these programs.

"For five years, SciGirls CONNECT has empowered informal and formal educators nationwide to adopt the research-based strategies that best engage girls in STEM," says Managing Director Rita Karl. "We are grateful for this opportunity to work with the MagLab's education team to research how these gender equitable strategies inspire girls around STEM learning."

About Twin Cities PBS

Twin Cities PBS (TPT)’s mission is to enrich lives and strengthen our community through the power of media.. For over thirty years, TPT has been public television's national leader in inspiring young people around the pursuit of STEM studies and career paths. For more information, visit TPT online, watch SciGirls on pbskids.org, follow SciGirls on Facebook and @SciGirls on Twitter.

Story by KRISTIN ROBERTS.


The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.