Teaching Future Magnet Students: The 2013 FIST Conference

by Callie Deng '14

When the clock struck nine on Saturday, March 16th, the Montgomery Blair Auditorium fell silent. Hundreds of female students from middle schools throughout the county turned their attention to the speaker standing before the podium. The event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Nancy Adleman from the National Institutes of Health, came onstage to present an inspirational talk regarding women in science. The 25th annual Females in Science and Technology conference had begun.

Each year, students and teachers from Montgomery Blair High School congregate to lead the annual Females in Science and Technology (FIST) conference. As the name suggests, FIST focuses on reshaping the mindsets of future generations by encouraging young women to realize their potential in the STEM fields. FIST works to fight the longstanding stereotype that “science and technology are for guys.” Nearly 200 seventh grade girls – hand-picked by middle school staff – are invited to attend a conference filled with creative workshops focused on these disciplines. High school volunteers, teachers, and presenters work together to guide the students, demonstrate new concepts and encourage students to explore and think in innovative ways. Mrs. Hart, the magnet organic chemistry teacher and sponsor of the Science National Honor Society, declared, “FIST was definitely a success … We had over 150 seventh-grade girls and a variety of experiences and enthusiastic presenters.” Plans for the annual FIST conference began in mid-January, as news of the upcoming event spread among members of the Science National Honor Society. From there, the Head Tutors of the Science National Honor Society were in charge of forming their own groups and planning workshops based on STEM disciplines. From evaluations completed by past participants, it was apparent that the younger students preferred methods of active learning. The student volunteers thus faced the challenge of creating interactive workshops that promoted experimentation and ingenuity. The middle school girls had a wide variety of workshops to choose from, with enigmatic workshops titled “The Mystery of Life” and ‘punny’ ones like the “Eggs-perience.” Middle school students attended three workshops throughout the day, allowing them to experience different facets of science. According to Huey Shih ’14, Head Tutor of Science National Honor Society and planner of the “Eggs-perience” workshop, “I had a great time teaching the girls because they were all very motivated and excited to learn about the concepts [we] presented.” Following a PowerPoint that explored concepts such as ‘momentum’ and ‘impulse’, the middle school students were asked to engineer a contraption that could safely carry an egg down a height of 2 meters with conventional materials. “After their eggs survived the stairwell drop, some of them were so happy that they wanted to take the contraption home to show their parents,” Huey remarked. The middle school students demonstrated aptitude and keen interest in other workshop activities as well. Kejin Wang ’14, noted that “the girls were definitely very enthusiastic, especially when things got messy. They also knew quite a bit about the explanations behind experiments, which surprised me.” Although FIST is an annual event that has been running for over two decades, students and teachers keep trying to improve the event by making adjustments from year to year. “This was the first year we had 3 groups of sessions taught by Science National Honor Society students,” Mrs. Hart said. Around twenty Science National Honor Society members and many more magnet students volunteered for this year’s event. Neil Davey ’14, the President of the Science National Honor Society, emphasized that “[Science National Honor Society] would like to continue planning activities that motivate youth to consider beginning their careers in the STEM disciplines.” One event planned for the end of the year is a chemistry ‘magic’ show aimed at an audience of elementary school students. As Neil puts it, this event has an objective very similar to that of FIST – “to motivate students to pursue careers in STEM, something that is much-needed for the future of our country as a whole.”