July 30, 2010
Girls tackle 3-D spatial thinking
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Lydia Brown, 13, of Cortland, slices into a squash to discover the shape made by the remaining facing pieces during a 3-D visualization class at the YWCA Tuesday. The class was taught by Dennis Wright, at left.
Katrina Drury doesn’t like to waste her time and decided to tackle a new math and science course — even though it’s summer time.
The youth signed on to take a special “Introduction to 3D Spatial Visualization” class, designed to help adolescent girls look at objects spatially.
“It’s a good way to spend my time in the summer,” said Drury, 12, of Cincinnatus. She said she enjoys her English classes over the sciences, though she’s a good student overall. “I thought it would give me an edge over other kids.”
The course, offered for an hour Tuesdays through Thursdays for three weeks in July, was organized by the local American Association University Women group.
“We are the first ones to do this in New York State,” said Ellen Wright of Homer, an AAUW member who spearheaded the course offering.
“The initiative came out of AAUW research on why there are so few women in math, science and technology fields,” said Dennis Wright of Homer, a retired teacher and administrator. Wright, who did his undergraduate work at Cornell University in agricultural engineering, stepped forward to teach the course.
“They found from middle school through college, when girls and boys are tested in their ability to visualize three dimensional spatial (relationships), boys tested higher by as much as 30 percent,” Dennis Wright said. “With the right instruction, that gap closes. It’s not an innate thing. It’s a learned skill.”
If girls can pick up this skill, it can help them achieve in math and science fields.
“Last winter, I read about this in an AAUW publication,” said Ellen Wright, treasurer of the group, and a retired nurse. AAUW partnered with the National Science Foundation in looking at the issue, she said.
“AAUW looked at that and looked at the work of this lady, Sheryl Sorby out of Michigan Tech,” Dennis Wright said.
Sorby saw several factors that contribute to the gap between the sexes in the science and math fields, including institutional and cultural bias. But visualizing spatially is a skill that can be taught.
“Basically, the course is a crash course in the fundamentals of professional engineer drawing,” said Dennis Wright. “This would be for something that Dr. Sorby presents for remedial students at the college level.”
“It’s an incredibly rigorous intellectual experience,” he said. “Initially, I am seeing puzzlement and frowns and then a lot of the ‘oh, I get it.’”
Eleven girls, six from Homer, three from Cortland and two from Cincinnatus, are in the course. They have studied isometric or three dimensional drawing, coded plans and how to take a drawing from a two dimensional level and make it into a three dimensional shape. The girls have homework every day and work with a tool kit with blocks and a CD-Rom from a workbook that allows them to see the work on the computer.
Ellen Wright was so excited by the research she contacted Sorby herself, who supplied AAUW with the information they need to teach the course.
YWCA officials agreed to hold the course there and the $400 funding to pull it off came from the Zonta Club of Cortland, AAUW, the Seigle Foundation and the Office of the President at SUNY Cortland. AAUW worked with area schools and the Cortland Standard on getting the word out so girls would sign up. The girls didn’t have to pay.
“I thought it was too important to have it be an issue of money,” Ellen Wright said.
She’s finding the whole culmination of the idea of the course and seeing it come to a reality fulfilling.
“I really like the isometric drawing in class,” said Drury. “I like drawing three dimensional stuff.”
Chelsie Beard of Homer, 14, was at the YWCA for its counselor-in-training program. “I kind of wanted to take it. I like this stuff. It’s interesting. I am thinking about being an architect.”
“I have nothing better to do in the summer,” said Shannon Slack of Virgil, 13. “It helps me,” she said, especially as she’s looking to get into forensic science.
“ I am so proud of these girls,” Ellen Wright said.
“I did struggle,” she said, as she tackled her science classes in college. “And being able to offer something that would help girls not have to do what I did would be fantastic.”
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