Science of Ick vs Damsels with Dragons: a storify

Jan 12 2014 Published by under Academia

Yesterday, I saw something about a "boys only" program at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. I wasn't thrilled. I tweeted. And it turned out, I didn't have complete information...and that further information made the issue even more complex. When it is ok to separate boys and girls? And to what end? Will this help or hurt participation in science?


I welcome more insights in the comments.


[View the story "Things That Go Ick vs Damsels in Distress: gender separation and science" on Storify]

8 responses so far

  • Janne says:

    One issue (I think - the storify thing doesn't work too well) is the balance between "we want to treat all equally" on one hand; and "as a practical matter, boys and girls currently respond to different approaches" on the other.

    If "things that are icky" will put off many of the girls that do respond to "dragons and damsels", and the other way around; and if a straight "dragonflies are really neat" approach will put off many children of both sexes, then having two separate programs makes a lot of sense.

    But I'm not sure it needs to be explicitly gender-exclusive. I don't have experience dealing with north-american children of that age, so perhaps it does for the programs to appeal to their targets.

  • Seems to me both of those programs could have been presented in gender-neutral ways. I'm assuming that genital contact with the ick or the insects is not necessary or encouraged, so why can't both sessions be for anyone?

    • laneintoit says:

      Because we're not emotional damaged teenagers who spend too much time on tumblr, so we know girls socially like different things from boys. It's the way of evolution.
      I like separate and anyone who doesn't it probably petty and damaged.

      • scicurious says:

        Trolly comment is trolly and poorly spelled!

        Strike one for tone and insults like "petty and damaged." Two more strikes and you'll be banned. Form a decent argument next time, please.

  • ksk says:

    I see lots of advantages to presenting the content in advertising in a way consistent with the teaching approach that will be used (emphasis on ick or on story) and let parents/children self-select. I don't see disadvantages, but I'd love to have them pointed out to me. (I can imagine "too many girls" signing up in the ick program could screw up some granting organization's gender balance criterion? I'm hard pressed to imagine anything else...)

  • Liz Baird says:

    As director of education for the Museum, I appreciate all of the conversations regarding our boys-only summer camp, “The Science of Ick.” I’d like to offer a little background on this program.

    Two years ago, at several parents’ suggestion, we developed a girls-only camp called “Damsels and Dragons” specifically designed to attract young girls who thought they didn’t like science. The name was our “hook” to get them in, after which they could discover dragons of all kinds – bearded dragons (a lizard), leafy sea dragons (similar to a seahorse) and of course dragonflies and damselflies. Again at parents’ suggestion, we decided to add a boys-only offering in the same time slot beginning this year.

    Additionally, our team of early educators is aware that current research (for example indicates there is added value in learning in a single-sex setting, especially when instructors use best practices for gender-specific teaching. So we again felt it was appropriate to provide single-sex camps in such an informal education setting in order to meet the variety of needs of all students. (Note that these are the only two such camps out of the more than 30 camps we offer annually.)

    The Museum has long been a leader of empowering women in science. Our “Girls in Science” program for 6th grade girls began in 1992, and our residential “Girls in Science Summer Ed-venture” began in 1999. Now we also offer a residential “Boys in Science” equivalent, based on the successes of those single-sex opportunities.

    Our Museum summer camp programs have a long history of providing safe, encouraging and fun exploration of the natural world. Throughout the summer, boys and girls of all ages have plenty of opportunities to “get icky.” I encourage you to browse our full list of offerings at I also invite you to respond to me personally if you have any further questions or comments.


    • scicurious says:

      Hi Liz,

      Thank you so much for stopping by and for explaining. After some thought and discussion, I understand the value of the offerings, though I do wish that the same offerings were available to both sexes (provided there was demand). Thank you for your careful and thoughtful response, and I wish you all the best in your programs.

      • Liz Baird says:

        You are most welcome. I believe that we will "flip flop" the subject matter next year. Space, time, and staff constraints limit the number of programs we can offer during any year so we generally have a rotating list of topics and experiences that we hope will connect with every interested child over a couple of years. My children (now grown) attended our camps and had to wait for some of their favorites to come back around.

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