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Operation SMART

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Review Synopsis: by science content expert Suzy Loper

Operation SMART (Science, Math And Relevant Technology) is a program from the national nonprofit Girls Inc. that focuses on inspiring girls aged 10-14 to pursue careers in math, science and technology. Operation SMART has developed activity guides that provide many ideas for hands-on activities. The activities incorporate the four elements of the SMART philosophy: equity, exploration, empowerment, and fun. In addition, Operation SMART offers a guide for staff development and training. This guide is rich with both general advice and detailed suggestions about how to train staff to implement SMART techniques.
Full Review:
Operation SMART is a program from Girls Inc, a national nonprofit organization with the mission of supporting girls in being "strong, smart and bold." Operation SMART (Science, Math and Relevant Technology) focuses on inspiring girls ages 10-14 to pursue careers in math, science, and technology. The program is based on four central goals: equity, exploration, empowerment, and fun.

Operation SMART has been implemented in different settings, including afterschool programs. There are 90 programs across the country, and there are also many other independent programs that incorporate the Operation SMART methods and tools.

I reviewed two sets of materials from Operation SMART. The first was The Power Project, one of several Operation SMART activity guides. This guide contains a large collection of hands-on activities organized into four units:
  1. Keep it Moving: Activities in Motion and Power
  2. Blow Winds Blow: Activities in Wind Power
  3. Plug it In: Activities in Electrical Power
  4. Girls and the Environment
Each unit has an introduction with detailed descriptions of several possible activities, followed by a large collection of additional activities with less detailed descriptions. Each unit also has one to two pages of background information for the instructor, as well as a list of references and a list of resources (such as suppliers to order materials from).

The activity guide also provides an overview of the SMART approach and a lot of ideas about how to emphasize equity, empowerment, exploration, and fun. Although many of the activities are drawn from other sources, the SMART twist is often visible. For example, there is an activity called Orange Juice Technology in which the students juice oranges using a range of implements, starting with their bare hands. The instructions note that an important component of the activity is encouraging girls to feel OK about getting messy. The emphasis on empowerment is visible in suggestions such as getting the students involved in making phone calls to arrange the details of field trips.

The activity guide is not a step-by-step or day-by-day curriculum: the leader needs to decide which activities to include, how long things will take, and how to prepare. However, it is a rich source of many ideas, with a coherent theme running through all of them. My only complaint is that the background readings, although brief and accurate, try to cover too much material in too few words, so that they feel in places like a collection of disparate facts rather than a coherent explanation.

The second publication I reviewed was Seeds for Growth, an Operation SMART staff-development and training guide. This book explains how to train leaders to start a SMART program or incorporate SMART techniques into an existing program. The book provides an overview of the philosophy, and then starts with the very basics, such as recruiting the SMART leader. The guide goes on to provide advice about how a supervisor can supervise and support SMART leaders, advice about running meetings in the SMART spirit, and detailed information about how to conduct Operation SMART Training Workshops.

The "Training Workshops" section is the heart of the guide, and is exceptionally thorough and helpful. I suspect it would be useful for anyone doing any kind of staff development for educators, whether or not they were focusing on SMART techniques. The authors give general advice about things like identifying goals for the workshop and selecting activities, but also specific guidance such as detailed sample agendas and sample workshop evaluations forms.

The guide ends with a substantial appendix that includes instructions for warm-up activities, hands-on activities, and "equity activities" (activities that help participants discuss and become sensitive to issues of equity)for training workshops. These activities all seem as though they would be engaging, and the hands-on activities in particular are well written (in the form of detailed lesson plans). There are only a few equity activities, and it would be nice to have even more of these. Overall, however, this guide gives me the impression that Operation SMART trainings are fun and valuable experiences.