One of the primary goals that I have for my second graders in rural Maine is to become more aware of the world around them. As someone who is interested in social justice, I also aspire to have them recognize injustices and to envision a different world than the one that we currently inhabit.
I try to educate my second graders about stereotypes throughout the duration of the school year. The first lesson that I do on this topic coincides with our study of science beginning in earnest. Prior to beginning our first science project, I ask my students to pause and to picture what they think a scientist looks like and does in their heads. I then ask them to draw that image and collect and display their images in a “scientist gallery” for everyone to see.
Once the images are hanging, we have a discussion about what we notice about our images — how they are similar to and how they might be different from one another. This leads into a discussion about how the stereotyped image of a scientist — of a crazy-haired, older male chemist is, in fact, just one narrow version of what scientists actually do.
This is the second time that I’ve done this lesson and I was pleased when I saw that this year’s bunch had much less stereotyped versions of scientists, at least around gender. In a class with more boys than girls, there were 7 pictures featuring female scientists and 7 pictures with male scientists. This was significantly different than last year, when only my drawing and two others featured females, even in a class heavily dominated by girls.
In terms of what the scientists were doing, however, “potions” continues to rule the day. My students had 9 scientists using potions and 6 doing “something else,” with some of those something elses being awfully close to the lab scientist image. Hopefully we will expand on these notions of “what scientists do” by the end of the year.
I follow up this activity by reading aloud “Me…Jane” by Patrick McDonnell. The students are always captivated by this charming text and it really helps to affirm that stereotypes are narrow and often limit our thinking about what the possibilities are for ourselves and those around us.
What a wonderful activity to combat the formation of stereotypes. I will have to check out the book you mention: Me … Jane. I am not aware of it. 🙂
Thank you! My students have been buzzing about it during our science time. Me…Jane is a really nice biography of the childhood of Jane Goodall. I love that it focuses on her being young — my students can make connections between their own childhoods and that of someone famous and see that everyone was a kid once!
Hi, Nicole — I just read your essay for the Horn Book on this topic. I’m so glad that you and your students are considering this question. A few years ago, I found myself pondering the topic of how scientists in reality may look quite different from the stereotype.
That line of thought led to a picture book biography of Lonnie Johnson — the Tuskegee-educated NASA scientist who invented the Super Soaker and is actively working to change the world — coming from me and illustrator Don Tate in 2016.
That’s still a while to wait. So, in the meantime, here’s a bit about Lonnie. I hope you (and perhaps your students) enjoy it!
Wow, thanks for sharing this! My students would love learning about someone who invented something that know about and probably think is pretty awesome. It’s really interesting that he is an activist as well.
I’ll have to add your book to our classroom library when it comes out!