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Science After School (SAS) Consumers Guide  

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Build IT

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  Afterschool Expert   Science Expert  

Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert John Ervin

The prototype for the Build IT program for preteen girls appears to work well in the afterschool setting. Its 15-20 minute activities involve girls in the process of scientific discovery and develop their social skills, while collaborations with Information Technology (IT) students and professionals help girls see where they can apply the skills they learn in the real world. Its recognition of the strengths girls have as well as the challenges they often face in middle school will help students soar beyond expectations in science and technology.
Full Review:
Build IT is a great concept, designed to help preteen girls at the junior high and middle school level become more involved in IT, both software and hardware. Participating girls are not only exposed to the processes and practices of information technology developers, but also participate in the design of new technologies that solve human problems. The Build IT program would be a great addition to an afterschool science curriculum.

The Build IT program involves girls in scientific processes, such as keeping a journal to record activities and ideas they have while pursuing a project. Build IT calls these journals "design notebooks," but they serve the same purpose that a lab book does when the girls are performing experiments. Girls are also encouraged to brainstorm a number of ideas for new designs or redesigns of existing technology before they start a project. Brainstorming is an important stage of the scientific process because it lets students come up with many ideas that they can use for their projects. By learning to brainstorm with confidence and without censoring their ideas, the girls develop habits that support scientific inquiry. If one idea does not work, they can go back to their notes and use a different idea, or try a new approach to their original one—using the scientific process of trial and error.

The program helps to improve girls' social skills by giving them a chance to work in groups and collaborate with IT professionals on design projects. In Unit 1 of the program, girls work in teams to select a designed object (such as a shoe) from their world, trace its origin and characteristics, and work together to imagine ways to redesign the object. The girls learn how to assign tasks to each group member, giving everyone the chance to participate and to sharpen their communication skills when interacting with one another. At the conclusion of the assignment, students present their vision for a redesigned object along with results from their user testing.

In Unit 3, participants go on field trips with IT professionals and youth leaders, who provide them with engaging activities and new information about the relationship between systems and devices. The field trip informs girls' solutions to four case studies, also in this unit, in which they are asked to address technology problems from the user's and designer's perspectives.

One of the best features of this program is that girls get to work as a lead designers alongside a Stanford University LDT (Learning, Design, and Technology) student to further develop the student's project (e.g., projects like handheld devices or the web-based tools). The partnership also promotes project-focused interaction between the girls and the LDT students and is intended to extend to other projects they work on within the Build IT program. These project interactions offer a great opportunity for girls to apply the communication skills they develop through Build IT to other real life situations.

Build IT is easy to use: detailed instructions are given in clear steps, and each activity lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. You can reuse equipment in the program because some projects can be put together and taken apart again. Since the program is new, it is hard to determine exact costs.

The program is an asset to afterschool curricula because it enriches, empowers, and boosts girls' scientific knowledge. Their increased confidence will help them do well in other areas, including in their science and math courses in school.

Although Build IT is still in the developmental stage, it serves a need where few other programs exist: to get girls interested in science and technology. The program emphasizes the challenges students face in science and math, but it also capitalizes on their strengths in language and communication, combining both to foster an interest in and understanding of science and technology.