RIT strives to ignite eighth-grade girls’ passion for math this summer

Camp leaves behind homework and grades, dives into real life, July 14-18

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Rochester Institute of Technology will hold a weeklong camp for eighth-grade girls this summer that yanks math out of textbooks and mashes it up with the real world in a fun way.

Summer Math Applications in Science with Hands-on Experience for Girls, or SMASH, is co-hosted by RIT’s College of Science, Women in Science, and the Center for Advancing Science/Math Teaching, Learning & Evaluation or CASTLE. SMASH’s first offering will give 40 incoming eighth-graders an innovative, fast-paced introduction to the importance of mathematical modeling.

The camp will run 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, July 14, through Friday, July 18, on the RIT campus, with extended drop off and pickup hours. Registration is $250. Need-based scholarships will be provided by the RIT College of Science. For more information, go to www.rit.edu/cos/smash.

“The U.S. is falling behind in math and science achievements with our eighth-graders ranked 10th globally, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics,” said Kara Maki, SMASH director, assistant professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and vice chair of RIT’s Women in Science group. “SMASH is about being proud to be smart and seeing the usefulness of math to solve all kinds of problems. It’s about not always getting it right the first time and trying different ways until you do.”

The camp curriculum includes gender-based education that affirms participants’ abilities and contact with RIT students and educators who have made mathematics and science part of their lives and illustrate potential career paths. The program is built around math modeling, role models and self-efficacy—the girls’ belief that they can do math.

Through problem-solving activities and experiments, group discussion and self-reflection, participants will tackle realistic problems using math to model scenarios, such as planning bus routes. Similar application will underscore that math is integrated across disciplines and serves as a common language throughout science and technology.

SMASH co-director Geraldine Cochran is also the program coordinator of RIT’s Center for Advancing Science/Math Teaching, Learning & Evaluation. She chairs the national committee on women in physics for the American Association of Physics Teachers and is contributing to a paper about the status of women in physics in the United States for the International Conference on Women in Physics.

“I see SMASH as a program addressing what can be a barrier to girls’ pursuits of careers in physics and other STEM fields—interest and self-efficacy in mathematics—at a critical age,” Cochran said. “We now know the importance of self-efficacy in females’ pursuit and retention in math and math-related fields. SMASH has built-in opportunities for self-efficacy.”

Maki and Cochran will be assisted by three camp counselors hired from RIT’s Learning Assistants Program, an experiential program for prospective teachers from the College of Science. The undergraduates will facilitate group discussion, answer questions and develop student-centered activities. They will serve as role models to the eighth-grade students while exercising teaching and curriculum development skills under the guidance of their own mentors, Maki and Cochran.

“I like that it’s called SMASH because I think of it as a smash of my two passions,” Maki said. “I am passionate about mathematical modeling/applied math, and about promoting women in science and math. I want to get the girls to see how powerful mathematics is and to get them to consider choosing a career in a STEM field. We need more women.”

RIT’s College of Science Dean Sophia Maggelakis provided funding for the pilot year of the program. Additional support came from the Society for Applied and Industrial Mathematics through its partnership with the Moody’s Foundation.

For more information about the Summer Math Applications in Science with Hands-on Experience for Girls, contact Kara Maki at smash@rit.edu or Geraldine Cochran at glcsps@rit.edu.