Operation SMART

Girls Inc. Operation SMART®
Science, Math and Relevant Technology

Girls Incorporated developed Girls Inc. Operation SMART in the mid 1980s in response to a growing concern regarding the shortage of women entering careers in science, math, engineering, and technology. Since then, Girls Inc. Operation SMART has reached over 500,000 girls across the country, boosting their interest in studying science and math, as well opening their eyes to the existence and importance of these subjects in all aspects of their lives. Nationally, Girls Inc. Operation SMART is the most popular and widely implemented Girls Inc. program.

A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS

Assume girls are interested in math, science, and technology. Too many girls — and too many children of color — still get the message that math and science aren’t for them. Research shows that parents, teachers and other adults typically expect girls not to perform as well as boys in science, math, and related subjects regardless of their true potential or demonstrated abilities. At Girls Incorporated sites, however, girls jump at the opportunity to dismantle machines, care for and study insects and small animals, and solve logic puzzles. Instead of struggling to get the boys to share the tools, in an all-girl environment girls can focus on the task at hand — and have fun while they’re at it.

Let them make big, interesting mistakes. Girls who are overly protected in the lab or on the playground have few chances to assess risks and solve problems on their own. At Girls Incorporated, once dreaded mistakes become hypotheses. Girls are urged to go back to the drawing board to figure out why their newly assembled electric door alarm doesn’t work or their water filter gets clogged. Supported by adults instead of rescued, girls learn to embrace their curiosity, face their fear, and trust their own judgment.

Help them get past the “yuk” factor. Girls who are afraid of getting dirty aren’t born that way — they’re made. Girls Incorporated encourages girls to put concerns about their “femininity” aside and get good and grubby digging in a river bed or exploring a car engine. Girls learn they have a right to be themselves and to resist pressure to behave in gender-stereotyped ways.

Expect them to succeed. In 1999, boys outnumbered girls 3 to 1 among students taking the Advanced Placement test in computer science (73 percent vs. 27 percent). This gap reflects the barrier of low expectations that girls face in male-dominated fields. Girls Incorporated teaches girls that they are not only capable of mastering math and science. They’re expected to continue to do so throughout high school and college. They learn that their ambition is as natural as boys’— and as necessary, if they are to become leaders of the 21st century.

RESULTS

A preliminary program evaluation reveals that the more a girl participates in Operation SMART, the more favorable her attitude toward studying science and math. Girls told evaluators that due to Operation SMART, they would use science and math as adults.

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