by Danica Chen, Del Norte High School
To an unknowing passerby, the event held at the Carmel Valley Library on November 8, 2015 would have seemed more like a game than an educational experience. Young girls rushed back and forth with shiny Easter eggs on spoons as their friends urged them to go faster. However, the event was not held simply for amusement. It was one of the many events held by the All Girls STEM Society, designed to teach young girls STEM topics. The math workshop was organized by a few local teens for girls from sixth to eighth grade. A second workshop was held immediately after this one for girls from third to fifth grade.
Before the event began, many girls were nervous, unsure of what to expect, but the few that had been there before were relaxed and eager. Sophia C. described her previous experience with AGSS. "Last time we did a lot of programming and we had to bring computers. We learned how to make a website, that was my favorite part." She remembers the experience with a smile. Sophia, like many of the girls, is passionate about math, though each one has her own reason; Sophia explains hers. "I like challenging myself. I like learning to solve difficult problems. And I want to be a teacher someday." At the last sentence, her smile widened.
Liana X. had a similar reason for coming. "I'm okay at math, so I came here to get better. And I heard it would be interactive."
The workshop began with a presentation about women in STEM by one of the founders, Veronica Tang, explaining important mathematical concepts. Some scribble down notes, others listen with rapt attention. After the presentation of each concept, the girls were presented with a challenging problem. Girls who solved it could choose a prize. Then, Veronica would explain each problem to the other participants. Ashveen B. is the first girl to get a problem right and a volunteer presented her with a box overflowing with crayons, scented lotions, and gel pens. She picked a calculator without hesitation. Vera O. is the next girl to solve a problem first, and she followed suit.
As the girls worked, a few parents leaned on walls or made small talk outside the library. They believe math is one of the most important subjects their children can learn.
One parent explains, "Math is the fundamental element of science and engineering. It describes how many things work in the physical world. Without a good understanding of the world, it will be hard to understand life. The world we live in today is technologically focused, and without a deeper insight into math and science, the girls won't have s necessary tool to contribute to the world. I hope the kids won't find math intimidating, but rather something that can be fun! I hope they use it in real world. I hope they pursue their dreams."
All of the parents were elated to have found a fun place for their daughters to develop their talents.
"I've spent my life devoted to mathematics, and I can recognize her gift in math, but she's resistant when I try to teach her. The last time we came here, it took me thirty minutes to persuade her. She was even crying. But the organizers were very encouraging, and the other girls were very encouraging, and in the end she actually won a prize," said one mother. "She's really warming up to the idea of learning math, the idea of learning new concepts."
She insisted that her daughter is not lacking in talent or passion, but confidence.
"Math was one of her favorites, but she's such a perfectionist that she thinks she can't do anything when she can't finish fast enough or does poorly on one test. And she gets so frustrated it ends up turning her away from math. She has the gift of logic, her mother has a PhD in math and her father is an engineer. She's a really bright kid. I know I'm probably a bit biased," she said with a laugh, "but I believe she can do well if events like this can get her interested again."
The next stage of the math workshop was a relay race. The girls got in teams and received Easter eggs with math problems inside them. Once they finished solving the problems, they took the egg back outside by balancing it on a spoon, got a new egg, and repeated the process. To win, the girls had to get the most points out of all the girls in their grade. All the players were eager to succeed, rushing their eggs out with fervor and giggling with glee. The girls worked together effectively, trading problems with their teammates when they get stuck. Many bounced up and down with excitement. Many parents were even surprised at how energetic their daughters were.
"It's hard to believe that children can actually get this pumped about math," one father notes jokingly. "I thought this workshop would take time away from her recreational activities, but apparently this is a recreational activity."
After the relay ended, the girls breathed a sigh of relief, and then waited in anticipation to hear the results. Two teams from each grade were recognized with awards. The winners earned prizes from Bath and Body Works, but, as the girls were overjoyed to discover, all the participants got prizes. All of them considered their experience with AGSS to be a good one. Vera describes her experience in favorable terms.
"I would come again. Math and science are my favorite subjects. The event was frustrating at times, because what competition isn't? It's frustrating, but it's rewarding to get to the end. Kind of like all learning. Kind of like real life. But the best part was that it was fun, too, and that's the best way to learn."