Baby Dragons!

By Marilee

During our second session at Finkl, we explored the role of genetics in engendering the unique combinations of attributes that comprise us. When asked if anyone knew what a gene was, many of the girls shook their heads. Some said they had heard of it but didn’t understand what it meant.

We began our journey into the world of genetics by analyzing the process that takes us from the single cell from which we are created to the trillion cells that compose each of us. Your cells, the girls learned, are constantly dividing through a process called mitosis, a process that involves the replication of DNA and eventual creation of two cells from one. We illustrated this by lining up. I gave each student a strip of paper with a color on it. The first line represented one set of chromosomes, and the second, paired evenly with the first, symbolized the copies. During prophase, the initial stage, the girls learned that DNA is copied, that the chromosomes in the cell — the organized structures containing DNA — normally hard to distinguish in the cell’s resting state, condense and become visible. The girls then lined up next to their “copy,” enacting the condensing of chromosomes that occurs during metaphase, the next step of mitosis. The lines moved a foot apart, mimicking the movement of the chromosomes to opposite sides of the cell during anaphase. Finally, during telophase and cytokinesis, the chromosomes arrive at opposite ends of the cell, and the cell divides, forming two identical daughter cells, which the girls depicted by moving to opposite sides of the classroom.

But if mitosis creates two identical daughter cells, how do we end up the unique gene combinations that make up each of us? The girls shook their heads. They didn’t know. It seemed odd.

To make the zygote, the single cell from which we come, the girls learned, the body uses a process called meiosis to create haploid cells — that is, cells with only one set of chromosomes. Our typical cells are diploid and have two sets of chromosomes. The mom donates one haploid cell, and the dad donates another to create a zygote, which itself is subsequently diploid. Meiosis enables the creation of haploid cells and therefore necessitates a process called crossing over, or gene recombination, a process the students illustrated by again lining up next to their “copies,” ripping their strips of paper and exchanging a piece with their neighbor, thereby creating sets of chromosomes that looked nothing like their originals. They then went through the process of dividing into four different groups, copying meiosis’ production of four daughter cells.

Melina and Ninel exchanged looks. The lesson was informative, sure, but maybe a little boring?

So why, I asked them, is the idea of meiosis so important?

“Because that’s how we’re different from each other?” Kathy offered.

Exactly! It has to do with the idea that different gene combinations can result and create a zygote with features derived from both parents.

To illustrate how influential different traits can be, and how scientists can determine the likelihood of a child inheriting certain traits from his or her parents, we examined the role of dominant and recessive alleles through Punnett squares and dragons. Yes, that’s right — dragons.


We created a scenario in which we had fire-breathing dragons and non-fire-breathing dragons, winged dragons and wingless dragons. Fire breathing and wings were dominant traits, which meant even if the dragon had genes for either fire breathing or wings, said dragon would express those genes, regardless of other genes. To be wingless or not fire breathing, however, the dragon would need both genes to have those recessive traits. This, the girls learned, is the difference between a person’s genotype — the genes s(he) has — and the phenotype — the expression of those genes.

The girls loved drawing Punnett squares with partners to see what baby dragons would result from their crosses, seeing the diversity stemming from gene recombination.

When we finally journaled, Denise shared that she “used to think genes just meant the jeans you wear,” but now she knows that “genes create who you are.” Many of the students reiterated that sentiment, with Kathy adding that now she knows “that you get genes from your parents and they decide what you look like and that crossing over means you could look a lot like one parent and not as much like the other.” Lesly interjected, “Like when one parent has blue eyes and one has brown eyes, you might have brown eyes because brown is dominant.”

The students like learning the underlying — if basic — principles behind their genetic makeup and can’t wait for the next lesson!


Math + Science=Beautiful Music

By Bori

Science is truly an Art! This is what I took from Ms. Coleman’s lesson—designing the pipe instrument.  The girls were absolutely engaged in this beautiful science lesson.  Ms. Coleman started the lesson with explaining what sound frequency is.  As she started, the girls started sharing what instruments they can play and how their experiences help them learn sound frequency.  Faith used to play the flute; Gabby used to play the piano; Micha used to play a guitar and once be in a choir.  Brianna loves listening to the radio.  Even me, as a science facilitator, I do play piano.  We were all familiar with how the waves are created by the sound.

When Ms. Coleman tried to draw the sound frequency pattern, Brianna got up with the marker then came up to the board.  She started to draw one frequency level she knows, “This is what I have seen.”  This was a higher pattern than one that Ms. Coleman has drawn.  Right after Brianna, Faith came up and drew the flat sound frequency.  “You know the flat waves,” responded Ms. Coleman.  Micha brought up a question, “How does this sound frequency work in human body?”  Faith was so passionate responding to Micha’s question, “I think men and women have a different frequency level because men have an Adam’s apple.”  “That’s a good response, Faith,” said Ms. Coleman.  I always love to see the girls sharing their own thoughts and questions back and forth.  No one has left alone.

20131118_165052This concept has really ignited the curiosity.  The girls were so enthusiastic about finding their own voice frequency.  We could discuss our voice levels for a whole class time, but we had to move on—making our own instruments with the pipes!  Ms. Coleman explained how we could figure out the length of the tube for each key note—A, C, D, E, and G—using the sample math equation.

Pipe Length: tube diameter (ours was ¾”)/2 + 13,397.244/freq.*2

Music Notes Frequency
A 440
C 1046
D 587
E 659
G 784



The girls were calculating the length of the tube for each key note by applying the equation. Once the girls had all the lengths figured out, they started making their own pipe instruments!  Ms. Coleman let the girls be creative as they connected each tube into one instrument.  We could use one single tube that has only one key or put them all together as one instrument.  Though each student had their own instrument to work on, the girls were working together, helping the neighbors!  Ms. Coleman and I were helping them play the pipe instrument.  It was very hard to play it in the beginning, but the girls so passionate playing this pipe instrument.  Towards the end, Ms. Coleman conducted the girls playing “Amazing Grace.”  We couldn’t get to the end since time was up, but the girls so much enjoyed playing each part!  We had a mini concert.

“This was a cool experiment,” said Micha.

I couldn’t believe science with math creates the beautiful music!  In Science, there’s Art, Math, even Music—it is amazing!  The more beautiful thing than the sound of the pipe was the harmony the girls have created together.

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Week 3: Woodson Girls Become Civic Engineers and Readers of Paretsky’s Critical Mass

By ToluWN_Wk3_1

This week, STEM Facilitator, Tolu Rosanwo, was eagerly welcomed by and impressed with her Sisters4Science students. Ciera, one of the students, was about to head home when Briana, Stephanee, Desiree, and Ashanta called to her from the windows above. “Briana, you’ve got to come! Ms. Tolu has a present for you! You’ve got to be committed!”

Peer pressure can often be negative, but Tolu admits that she felts a swell of pride when she saw how passionate her girls were about this pressure time after school.

Tolu began with a recap of what they learned about Mae C.Jemison, a week before. To her surprise, 8th grader, Desiree who had missed that week, knew all about Dr. Jemison since her younger sister, Briana gave her a summary of the lesson. She exclaimed, “She is my new role model because she has accomplished so much!” Rosanwo found it incredibly encouraging to learn how much Sisters4Sciences means to her students.

WN_Wk3_2For week 3 of Sisters4Science, the girls learned the importance of building bridges. The girls discussed the skill set needed to be civil engineers, and then decided to be ones for the day! They were broken up into two teams and given 20 plastic straws, tape, and toothpicks and asked to build a bridge in 20 minutes. Tolu, acting as the mayor of Chicago, would test the strength of the bridges afterwards with weights.

7th graders, Stephanee (left) and Briana (right) were on team 1. At first Briana wanted to work individually but later confessed to enjoying the team dynamic. Team 2 was composed of three student from left to right: Ashanta (6thgrade), Ciera (8th grade), and Desiree (8th grade).WN_Wk3_3

The girls thrived in the team and bridge-building activity, their creative juices flowing and critical thinking skills, exercised.

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After only 20 minutes, the girls presented their impressive bridge models for the city of Chicago! Ashanta, Ciera, and Desiree’s bridge was 34 cm tall from base to tip and 34 cm wide. They focused on making it look “pretty” but also “strong at the bases.”


Stephanee and Briana focused on building a “super strong bridge” and made sure to use masking tape instead of scotch. It was 42 cm long and 15 cm high.


Both bridges passed Tolu’s “roll of masking tape weight” test with flying colors! Desiree poses with her sketch of their bridge.


At the end of the day, the girls wrote in the journals about what they have learned. Stephanee was the first to share and said, “I used to think doing building things was hard. But now I love building them now and it’s not hard if you put your mind to it.”


Tolu was filled with pride and was eager to deliver their presents from an employee at Women and Children’s First with a project called, “Stories from Cory.” This philanthropic mother purchases books for girls in order to commeroate the life of her own daughter whom passed away from leukemia. All the girls had met Sara Paretsky, the writer of Critical Mass two weeks prior and were excited to receive the books. Desiree exclaimed, “I may read it all in one night!”


WEEK 2: Exploring Space and Role Models at Woodson

By Tolu

This week we have a smaller group of girls but a young, new addition—6th grader, Ashanta (red sweatshirt)!


After hearing the girls describe their role models in the last session, STEM Facillitator, Tolu, decided to bring in one of her own to discus—astronaut and physician, Mae C. Jemison, the first African American woman in Space. None of the sisters had heard of Jemison before so Tolu gave a quick biographical sketch of Jemison’s life and career. Then, the students talked about what they admired about Jemison. Some said she was “smart.” Others said she  “went after her dreams.”


Afterwards, we dove into a lesson on basic geography, Galileo, Copernicus, and the solar system. We also used a little bit of math to calculate the ages of some of the girls on different planets since the time to revolve around the sun differs on each one.

The girls clearly love math, pulling out their scratch paper to eagerly calculate their ages.


Ashanta (6th Grade) is approximately 40 years old on Venus. Stephanee (7th Grade) is 22 on Venus and Briana (7th Grade) is 6 on Mars. All of them insist that boys, however, are from Jupiter!

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At the end of the day, the girls all posed with their National Geographic books on space exploration. Although some (Ashanta) are certain they do not want to become astronauts (especially after seeing Gravity) the girls had found a new role model in Mae Jemison. During our journal time, Briana wrote, “I used to think Mars was the 3rd furthest from the sun. I know its Earth now.”


WEEK 1: Meet the Woodson Girls!

Woodson North

By Tolu

The Sisters4Science after school program began on October 25, 2013 at the Woodson North Middle School. For the first session, the girls bonded with STEM Facilitator, Tolu Rosanwo, by sharing about their favorite foods, who they admire and their grade in school. All students except one said that they “hated” science the most since they currently do not have a science teacher. Nonetheless, the girls seemed so happy to be there after school, and Rosanwo was excited that they were excited.

Woodson North As pictured from left to right: Stephanee, Ciera, Briana, and Desiree are incredibly bright. The girls’ grades ranged from 7th to 8th grade, and their heroes were their mothers (Desiree), Batman (Briana), Inyuasha (Ciera), Beyoncé and Edward Cullen (Stephanee).

For the first lesson, Tolu and the girls helped formulate their Code of Conduct, and asked, “What does it mean to be a sister?” Desiree and Briana (both biological sisters) immediately chimed in, but they all got to work writing their codes on the board. 7th grader, Stephanee, thought a sister should be “special, interesting, social, trustworthy, excellent, and respectful,” but all came to the consensus that they must all trust and believe in one another. Desiree wants it to be the group motto.
The class concluded with a discussion about the Scientific Method and a definition of science. The girls shouted out terms like “hypothesis,” “statistics,” “data,” “experiments” and developed hypotheses for why the sky was blue.


At the end of the day, they journaled their experiences and Stephanee wrote, “I used to think science was boring, but now I think it’s fun!”
One session was already so transformative, and we are excited about what is to come for these girls.

Forgery at Finkl

By Marilee

Our first class at Finkl Academy in Pilsen comprised a great group of girls eager to begin their Sisters4Science journey.

“Can we talk about the solar eclipse?” one asked before we even entered our classroom.

“Or paleontology?” another chimed in.

I quickly allayed their fears; they would fill out a questionnaire about their interests and hopefully, we’d get real scientists to visit and discuss their fields! The girls’ eyes lit up.

photoWe started the class with a quick ice breaker, creating a human knot from which the girls had to disentangle themselves using both verbal and nonverbal communication. The students loved it!

“It takes a lot of teamwork to do this,” Melina said.

“Yeah,” Margarita piped in, “you really have to learn to say what you want without speaking. It’s hard but lots of fun!”
We then got in a science circle to discuss positive and negative experiences with science. Most felt science was interesting and had predominantly positive experiences with the subject thus far.

“I like everything about it, except bugs,” Jade shared.

Everyone nodded emphatically — they enjoyed everything about science, save for the study of insects.

We then created our code of conduct. Each girl had a limitless number of sticky notes on which she could jot down her ideas for how we’d behave in the classroom. They posted their sticky notes on a white sheet, and we discussed and voted on all of our ideas.

Everyone agreed they wanted a respectful classroom, a safe space where they felt they could be heard without judgment or criticism, where they could share their voices without fear of being tread on by someone else. We agreed to be kind to each other, to give everyone a chance to participate, and to be inclusive and welcoming. The students especially enjoyed the idea of using the call and response “one diva, one mic” to call order to the room and liked thinking that the talking piece — a camel — signifies that only the person holding it may talk, symbolizing everyone’s moment as a diva in the room.

After carefully crafting our code, we journaled, using the prompt, “I use to think…, but now I know…”


Everyone had wonderfully creative things to say, stories that centered on once thinking science a boring subject but then coming to the realization that it can come alive, that they could come alive while exploring what it had to offer.

“I used to think science was just about boring things like the periodic table,” Joselin said, “but now I know that it’s very interesting and gives you an opportunity to study cool things like nature and the stars.”

We ended the class by diving into a lesson exploring penmanship and forgery. Each girl attempted to copy a check — to forge the written items and the signature — discovering how hard it is to capture every nuance and defect inherent in individual writing.

“It was hard,” Nimel said. “And scary to think people can do that.”

They loved the lesson and asked for more hands-on activities next class. We can’t wait to begin again next Monday!

Sisters4Science girls are hope for this world

“What are we doing today?”

“We are making clean water.”

“What? Ms. Kim you always bring the weird experiments.  I’m not saying it in a bad way.”

S4S_Joslin_11_2013_2As the girls were all settled, I brought up the concept we were about to do together, “Clean Water Project.”  I had the girls take notes while watching the interactive online lesson; all of the girls were so engaged.  Faith didn’t want to take notes at all so I let her just watch and remember the procedure, but she took notes. She did it!  As we moved to the experiment Brianna got up, marker in hand, and began to lead the class through the steps of the scientific process.  Wow, I did nothing!  I just let it flow as they were.  They were making the whole class!  It was so amazing to see the girls grow in curiosity.  They all took a turn to be a part of it–Faith did the first step by shaking the swamp water in the bottle–I couldn’t capture her in a photo.  She was shaking the bottle and her body as well.

S4S_Joslin_11_2013We made a water filter by creating a layer with pebbles, coarse sand, and white beach sand.  I couldn’t find a measuring cup, but Micha volunteered to be a measuring cup–actually her hands.  Amorianna, Ashley, and Brianna made the layer together.  Team work, yay!  Then we poured the dirty swamp water little by little through the filter.  We filtered the water twice to have a better result.

For journaling, I shared a little of my experience helping little children and women in India, where there was no access to the clean water even the restrooms.  The poor people that live on the mountain valley had no access to clean water, restrooms, and no schools at all for little children.  They would sleep on concrete floors.  My team and I joined the families and slept on the concrete floors for 15 days while building a small restroom for the mountain village people. Once I shared a little of my life in India, the girls had a better idea with “Clean Water Project.”  The journal prompt was: “Based on this experiment, how would you support or help others in order to provide the clean water?”

S4S_Joslin_11_2013_3Brianna said, “We can fund a trip to Africa.  We can educate them like teach this experiment then help them go to the school.”  Micha had stunning questions, more political, “Do the rich people know this?  Why aren’t they helping them?  Is there any way for the companies to do this?”  Honestly I did not have an answer for her.  I still don’t.  It is sad, very sad to see how unfair the world is, but I see hope right here in our classroom.  I believe we, Sisters4Science girls, are hope for this world.  We are taking a tiny step, but we are making an amazing difference together!