explanatoidsTM is coming to your neighborhood!
A new media project of Family Communications, Inc., the Girls Math & Science Partnership (GMSP) was created to help individuals in the community think differently about what science is and who can do it. Focusing on middle school girls, the project hopes to counter the negative stereotypes associated with women in math, science and technology, as well as stress the importance these disciplines are to the region’s future. As an extension of Fred Rogers’ legacy, the GMSP aims to cultivate young people’s curiosity by showing how things work and where their imagination can lead them.

The physical sciences, especially biotechnology and advanced manufacturing, are Southwestern Pennsylvania’s fastest growing economic clusters. Research suggests that young women are the most vulnerable to succumbing to peer pressure and often disengage from taking complex science and math classes, believing that careers in the sciences are strictly for boys. With technology progressing at an astonishing growth rate, female participation in scientific fields will ensure that a new generation of scientists, engineers, chemists and workers become economically self-sufficient and independent learners. Traditionally, women have been under-represented in these occupations and the need for mentors and role models for girls pursuing science is great.

Funded and inspired by the work of the Heinz Endowments and the Alcoa Foundation, the GMSP is part of a unique collaboration that pulls partners from the private, public and educational sectors. By developing original opportunities for informal science learning, Barbara K. Mistick, is a nationally recognized innovator in youth programming and advocate for women of all ages, and will direct the GMSP team. Students from Carnegie Mellon University’s design department and educational assessment researchers at The University of Pittsburgh assisted in developing the initiative’s pilot program, explanatoidsTM , which developed and placed “girl friendly” signage about the science behind a popular roller coaster at Kennywood Park. Three signs – “The Scream Team,” “No Engine? No Way!” and “Choose Your Adventure” – are currently on display in the queue areas of the park’s thrill-ride attractions. Primary research concluded that the pilot campaign was effective in stimulating curiosity about the science behind these everyday activities. This curiosity can naturally break down these often self-imposed barriers and encourage a broader vision of what girls believe they can achieve professionally in the field of science.

Drawing upon the overwhelming success of the initial signage that engaged students in the creativity and benefits of science in everyday life, the National Science Foundation1 awarded a three-year grant to Family Communications. The purpose of the grant is to expand the explanatoids TM project into additional public venues throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania, but this unique program has the potential and flexibility to make an impact nationwide.

The importance of girls/women to the science profession is the focus of the program. Although the series focus is middle school girls, intense research indicates that the designs also appeal to boys of that age and have helped bridge the gender gap when it comes to how students view math and science. The explanatoidsTM program also aims to take an everyday activity and show students that discovering science is fun, relevant in almost everything we do, and full of endless possibilities.

The character-driven explanatoidsTM signage was the result of an in-depth study of over 3,000 families and serves as a platform from which parents, educators and mentors can begin to talk with young women about the opportunities available to them in the world of science. The GMSP aims to bolster “community conversations” around each explanatoidsTM sign, which brings science outside the classroom and into Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.

The number of visitors from these highly visible locations makes explanatoidsTM the second most viewed project in the region. In addition to Kennywood Park, the GMSP will extend the program to other neighborhoods with eye-catching signage and thirty-second video spots.

explanatoids™ is coming to your neighborhood!

1This Material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0217033

Watch for colorful displays soon at the following locations:

PNC Park; completion May 2003
Schenley Ice Rink; installation Winter 2003
Anderson Playground; installation Spring 2003
Second series of signage at Kennywood Park Logjammer; installation Spring 2003
Barbara K. Mistick, Director
Girls, Math & Science Partnership