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Lanier Science Teacher Returns to Scotland for Science Festival

Source: Village News, April 22, 1997
By Joey Gimenez

Lanier Middle School science teacher Martha Phelps-Borrowman travelled recently to Edinburgh, Scotland to spread the word on making science more appealing to girls. She was accompanied by her husband, John, and an eighth-grader at Lanier, Maggie Jennings.

In fact, Borrowman's two-week venture abroad, from March 22 to April 6, marks her second such presentation to the international science-promoting Edinburgh Science Festival.

Currently in its ninth year, the Festival attracts educators from around the world and is known for the wide variety of presentations and activities held around the entire town.

Borrowman's presentation was titled: "Computers: Boy Toys or Girl Toys?" Last year she presented "Girls (Only?) in Science," focusing on the origins and significance of Lanier's all-girls science club. That speech was compiled with others from last year's festival and published in a book.

Borrowman reports that a young woman who attended last year's conference returned this year to her speech and workshop session. The girl's continued interest was very gratifying to Borrowman.

Borrowman began the Girls Interested in Real Life Science (GIRLS) at Lanier in 1995 after teaching HISD's first-ever experimental all-girl science class in 1994.

GIRLS attracted 60 young women, 30 of whom were minority students, with the assistance of a major grant from the AAUW.

"I'm not advocating 'all-girls,' nor am I trying to make all of these girls into scientists," says Boffowman. "I'm presenting this as an option. There are some girls for whom separation helps. This gives an opportunity to grow in a more supportive environment."

Her interest in girls-only education was piqued when AAUW's 1991 national poll produced a report on self-esteem, titled "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America."

"There have been years and years of acculturation. It's nobody's 'fault' that men historically have, been dominant in science. It's just how it has been," comments Borrowman. "Now we have to do things to neutralize that. And we, as teachers, have to keep it on our mind at all times."

Borrowman realizes that boys also feel the pressure of possibly being derided by peers for venturing an answer that may be wrong or of being laughed at for doing or saying something that is not quite right - even though this is fundamental to the education process.

She notes that boys could benefit from a club oriented toward boys only, but she personally "can only do so much."

"Boys are welcome to participate with the club and some have attended GIRLS meetings," she adds.

GIRLS meetings feature guest females working in science or technology - from astronauts to veterinarians - who present demonstrations or experiments relating to their field.

"At the beginning of the girls science class, I had them draw their idea of a scientist. Most drew a man in a lab coat. When I had them do this again at the end of that year not all the scientists were in lab coats, fewer were male, and some were even girls.

"They're seeing the possibility of themselves as scientists. None may become the next Madame Curie or Shannon Lucid. But some could. We are who we are by tradition," she concludes.

Borrowman also has been working on developing Internet websites focusing on women in science and math. She offers free guidance to teachers wishing to incorporate this material in their classrooms.

After her first presentation to the Edinburgh Science Festival last year, two Edinburgh women created and received funding for their own girls science club.

Borrowman has attended the Edinburgh Festival and has funded Lanier's GIRLS club with funding from the AAUW's Eleanor Roosevelt Teacher Fellowship. The GIRLS club has attracted girls from both the Vanguard and regular student bodies.

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