Modern math: Girls + science = smart
November 20, 2013
Jenny Kuenstling (right) from Iowa State University, works with Fairview second-graders Chloe Reiling (left) and Brenna Goins (center) as they solve geometric puzzles during a visit Monday. Kuenstling used tanagrams to help students understand how shapes can be combined to create other shapes. The visit was part of the university’s Professional Women in Science and Engineering program. Kuenstling wants to be a civil engineer.
Rectangles and triangles and squares, oh my!
Iowa State University sophomore Jenny Kuenstling was in second-grade classrooms at Fairview Elementary Monday as part of the ISU's Professional Women in Science and Engineering program. She was leading a hands-on lesson with tanagrams, showing the students how smaller shapes can be combined to make different, larger shapes.
A civil engineering student with an English minor, Kuenstling explained how the concepts of shapes played into an engineer's work, for example, by making the different shaped and sized parts of an engine work together to run a car.
The Professional Women program includes several dozen women in the science and engineering fields, Kuenstling said. Teachers in schools across Iowa contact the department at ISU to bring the women to their classrooms for a day of hands-on learning with students ranging from kindergarten to high school seniors.
Kuenstling said that most of the teachers who contact the department teach first, second, third or seventh grades. She started working for the program last spring and has done about 10 different projects with students so far.
"Sometimes I get really stressed-out about a test, and then I can come here," she said of the classroom setting. "I remember why I'm doing it all. The kids get excited. The older grades don't want to show they're excited, but usually there is at least one."
Originally from Knoxville, the 19-year-old said that she was inspired by her grandfather, who was the county engineer.
"I wanted to have that kind of influence on the world," she said.
Kuenstling hopes to work in the structural or transportation fields, designing buildings or highways and bridges.
The goal of the professional women program is to get girls involved in science at an early age by exposing them to older role models in the field, she explained. In her civil engineering program at ISU, only 30 percent of the students currently studying civil engineering are women. She has aso had a class in which she was the only female student.
Second-grade teacher Jean Haviland organized Monday's visit. She said that the ISU students have been making trips to the Carroll schools for more than five years.
"It's OK to be smart. That's their message. You can be a girl and be smart, it's not only for the boys," Haviland said.
The hands-on aspect is also a key part of the lessons, she added.
"It's loud, but it's fun," she said. "(The students) like it. They like the challenge."
The program offers several different activity options, and teachers choose the lesson they want, Haviland explained. This week, the tanagrams fit in with her class's math lesson. In other years, students have studied magnetic forces with iron and cereal, density with tin foil and miscellaneous objects, and animal adaptations with toothpicks and assorted materials.
Haviland said that the different experiments offered each year also provide inspirations for teachers who can later emulate the activities in different classes.
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