By MUST, Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”, in Milan, Italy

The Hypatia Toolkit is now online and all the activities developed by the five museum partners (Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem, Experimentarium, NEMO Science Museum, MUST, and Universcience) are available for download. This experimental phase has been exciting and valuable for us MUST museum educators, and furthermore, it became a chance to reinforce our role and to immerge ourselves in a deep methodological reflection about gender inclusion.

We experimented four Hypatia activities with students, teachers and six researchers. We worked with two secondary schools, with 13 years old students. We tested two of the activities we designed (“Skillgame”, “Inquiry to shape and action”) and two designed by the Israeli partner (“Speed dating”,“What’s your opinion?”), all available in the Toolkit. Both teachers and researchers worked with us during the facilitation. We were co-facilitators and observers; working to support them constantly and carefully. It was interesting to work with them, observing how teachers approached Hypatia activities and how researchers behaved in a non-university classroom.

This experience was a valuable chance for us to take an external point of view on facilitation and to be surprised by new insights.

We enjoyed seeing the classrooms completely transformed. Desks were no longer in line, facing the teacher’s post; they were all pushed against the walls to free space, or assembled to form little islands and allow students to work in groups. The teacher’s desk became a workshop table, full of materials used to build mechanical constructions, or it disappeared altogether, making the teacher’s position fade in the midst of students.

Teachers were surprized by the informal approach researchers took in their interactions with the students, in the way they spoke and even in the way dressed. Maybe teachers were expecting professionals in white coats, but instead they encountered men and women in jeans and comfortable shoes, ready to sit on the floor with the children and answer all their questions in a simple and direct way.

Passion and sincerity were appreciated by the students that felt immediately at ease, asking questions to the researchers, even the more personal ones. A student, for example, asked a researcher who studies garbage recycles if he had ever won a girl’s heart speaking about his job.

We found confirmation that involving professionals in the school context can be very stimulating for both students and teachers. They act as powerful examples and present different career paths in an effective way, including their careers’ difficulties and satisfactions.

We were surprised by the students’ point of view about the gender unbalance in STEM careers. Although most students acknowledged that both boys and girls can be good in scientific subjects and that everyone should have the same chances, they stated that there are differences between the two genders, and thus they are not equally adequate for the same study paths.

Students brought as evidence the unbalanced distribution of boys and girls in the different kind of high schools. This shows how students build their perceptions on their daily experiences at school and with their family and thus it is necessary to influence these contexts if we want to produce change.

For us, as museum educators, the Hypatia project represent the first opportunity to focus on how teenagers perceive gender issues, and to dialogue directly with them, aiming to deeply understand their points of view. Sometimes students unawarely perpetuate stereotypes that emerge in their actions, in what they say, or in their decisions about their future. It is therefore important to work on the awareness, without blaming them.

The world of informal education has great potential foster positive change – even greater, if it succeeds in collaborating with the world of formal education.
This is our aim for 2017.