Bellefonte girls enjoy exploring plant biology

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS At top: Michele Crowl, director of education at Discovery Space, assists fifth graders Lily, left, and Bailey with their plant dissections. Above: The girls got the opportunity to look at their dissected plants under the microscope. Below: Olivia Perdew, education manager at Discovery Space and emPOWERed program lead, introduces the girls to the topic of plant biology. 

BELLEFONTE — There are not enough females in STEM careers, and one program is working to change that by introducing young girls early to these career fields.

“stEMPOWERed Girls” was dreamt up by Michele Crowl, director of education at Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania, and since last school year, it has provided additional education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for fifth-grade girls.

The program’s first session of the school year was held from Nov. 14 through Nov. 16 for Bellefonte Elementary fifth-graders. This year’s first session focused on the topic of plant biology. Other sessions will follow throughout the school year at Bellefonte and the plan is to also engage with Benner Elementary this school year, according to Crowl.

For the session’s first day, which lasted about two hours, students were introduced to the topic and had the opportunity to dissect plants. On the second day, they took a field trip to Plant Genetics in Bellefonte to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility and talk with two female experts: a plant breeder and a tissue culture specialist.

On the third day, which served as a wrap-up day with reflection, the girls were given the challenge of designing packaging to ship a plant across the country. Perdew said that a key part of this challenge is the engineering design process.

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS Fifth graders proudly display their finished plant dissections. Front row, from left: Lily, Morgan and Alyssa; back row, Grace, Bailey, Kira and Kayla.

During the first day, the girls were asked why they came to the program and they discussed convincing other young girls to get involved with science. Some of the girls said they already liked science a lot, while others said they liked to do experiments, and some just wanted to learn more about Discovery Space. One girl pointed out that it is hard to explore science in elementary school since they are unable to do as many experiments as higher grades.

At the first day of the session, students were also asked to create word maps for “STEM,” which were based upon their current knowledge of the topic. The aim was to try to figure out what the girls knew already and to expand upon that knowledge, Crowl said.

To prepare them for the second day’s field trip, Perdew showed the girls photos of the experts they would meet at Garden Genetics, along with photos of the facility. The girls were then introduced to the various parts of a plant. Afterward, they were each given a lily on which to perform a dissection.

During the plant dissection, some students remarked how fun it was and they went over to use two provided microscopes to further examine their dissections. After the dissections, the girls took part in a follow-up discussion to look at what they knew about how plants work. This follow-up discussion was used to further prepare them for their visit to Garden Genetics, Perdew said.

After the first session, students said they had fun and enjoyed learning about STEM and about the Discovery Space program.

One student, Morgan, said, “I think it was really fun because we actually got to do things.”

Another student, Alyssa, said, “It was very interesting, I liked that we could dissect flowers; I thought you could only dissect animals.”