BAYSIDE, N.Y.—”How Students See Scientists: Mostly Male, Mostly White, and Mostly Benevolent,” is an article from the Science and Children Journal that outlines an informal survey taken by the magazine. School children were asked: What image comes to your mind when you think of a typical scientist? Their responses were given in the form of written and illustrated work.
The greatest number of respondents came from New York and the outcome proved the numerous stereotypes that dominate many young minds about what traits a scientist must fulfill in order to hold such a “prestigious title.” The article opposes the common belief that a scientist must be of some supernatural intelligence, a nerd, or a freak of nature to take part in such work. Most students drew a middle-aged man, in a lab, mixing chemicals.
Eighty-six percent of females drew male scientists. This article only begins to illustrate the misconceptions facing today’s youth about the attributes that scientists must possess and the fields in which they may work.
A few weeks ago I told my class, “Please draw an image of a scientist and answer the following: Where is your scientist? What is your scientist doing?” The class has an equal number of boys and girls, and 100 percent of the class drew male scientists, all of whom were working in a “secret lab,” I was told. As they worked, I heard comments about Albert Einstein, and “crazy hair” was seen in two of the drawings.
It is my belief that this year’s Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School (HMADS) Science Fair has combated some of these stereotypes and that the children walked away knowing that there are many professions in the field of science open to males and females, and that most scientists are not locked in a “secret lab.”
The HMADS 21st Annual Science Fair Week in Bayside was highlighted by three informative and noteworthy guest speakers in the science field: Dr. Edmond Sarkissian, internist; Dr. Scarlet Arakelian, DDS; and Simona Yadhdjian, RPh. (All three speakers are parents of currently enrolled HMADS students.)
Sarkissian graduated from St. George University Medical School, completed his residency at Winthrop University Hospital, and taught biology at California State University. He spoke in a well-prepared presentation to the HMADS 4th, 5th, and 6th grades on the topic of diabetes, explaining in concise language the function of the pancreas and the role of insulin in the body. He defined type I and type II diabetes for the audience and explained the symptoms of diabetes. Most importantly, Sarkissian spoke about preventative measures and the importance of a well-balanced diet. His patience and calm demeanor held the students’ interest throughout his presentation.
Seasoned doctor Scarlet Arakelian joined us to speak about dental health and dental procedures. A graduate of SUNY Stony Brook University with a degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery, she opened her own practice in 2004. Arakelian has advanced her education by extensively studying implant dentistry. Her slide show about the impact of dental decay engaged the students and facilitated much dialogue between Arakelian and the audience. Besides dental health procedures, she spoke about the anatomy of the tooth and how tarter destroys teeth.
Simona Yaghdjian graduated from St. John’s University School of Pharmacy and presently works for Rite Aid Drugstores. The young HMADS students were attentive as they listened to Yaghdjian, who taught the students that “a clean child is a healthy child.” Her pleasant nature and patience elicited many questions from the students.
Amid the excitement of our three guest speakers was the main event of our young scientists’ work. Each student’s creativity and individual interests showed through their beautiful displays and articulate presentations. The nursery scientists explored sea life and adopted a humpback whale named Half Moon. They worked together to create a whale out of tissue paper and leaned facts about the mass of whales. The kindergarten class learned how to stay healthy by studying proper nutrition through the food pyramid.
The first grade explored many curricula in their presentation about primates. The students learned about Jane Goodall and created poems about the primates they studied, incorporating science, history, and ELA. The second graders tackled the topic of physical science. Each student performed an experiment using the steps of the Scientific Method. Attention-grabbing experiments ranged from magnetism to aeronautics.
Animal life and the various habitats could be seen at the third grade table. Each student researched extensively on the plants and animals that thrive in each habitat. The enthusiastic fourth graders undertook the many aspects of the solar system ranging from the planets, sun, moon, asteroids, meteoroids, and constellations.
The fifth grade students went “under the sea” to discover ocean topography, pollution, currents, tides, and coral reefs. And finally, the complex human body was studied by the sixth graders as they presented their knowledge on the body systems. They covered a wealth of information including DNA, layers of the skin, and the pH scale, and described genetics using Punnett Squares. To supplement projects, each student studied a natural plant and reported on a person in science. The fluidity with which they presented their respective topics showed a deep level of understanding and comprehension.
The HMADS students became young inventors as they voluntarily created original inventions. The inventions were displayed at the invention center and some boasted working models. Each original invention was brought to fruition with an “authentic” patent.
Our week of learning concluded with a school-wide quiz game under the direction of principal Zarmine Boghosian, with a special thanks to computer teacher Arshak DerArtinian for his contributions.
The three guest speakers along with the involvement of each of hte students were the greatest illustration to our students about what a scientist “looks like.” Each one of us is capable of attaining “scientist” status. It is up to us as adults and educators to present an attainable model of who a scientist is, and the HMADS Science Fair Week did just that.
—By Sophia Antonelli