Josie Wulff, a ninth-grader at Brooklyn Junior High, has always enjoyed learning about science. But she didn’t realize she could actually be a scientist until she found herself doing it on national television.
Josie, 14, was featured with three other Brooklyn Park teens on SciGirls, an Emmy-winning show from Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) National Productions. The other girls were Brooklyn Junior High students Maria Carbajal, Alejandra Mujos-Salas and Faith Ogega.
Now in its second season, SciGirls focuses on science, technology, engineering and math and seeks to change how girls think about those fields.
“SciGirls was a spin off of Dragonfly TV (another public television science show) when we became slightly more focused on the idea that girls need special encouragement to pursue … the STEM careers,” Co-Executive Producer Kathleen Shugrue said.
According to Shugrue, girls in their early teens often begin to lose confidence in their abilities in STEM subjects, while boys are more likely to have increased confidence. SciGirls started as an initiative to get girls interested in science and evolved into a television series with the same goal.
Each half-hour episode follows the adventures of real-life SciGirls, like Josie, as they seek answers to everyday questions using the scientific method. The animated host, Izzie, and her best friend, Jake, tie episodes together and set up questions the SciGirls answer.
Josie and her friends starred in the episode “Multitasking Mania,” which premiered at 8 a.m. Nov. 10 and is now available online.
In the episode, Izzie was multitasking and needed to know if it was possible to do so effectively. So she asked the real-life SciGirls — Josie and friends — to find out.
With guidance from a behavioral psychologist from St. Kate’s University who served as a mentor, the girls set up experiments to get answers.
“Basically the question we wanted to answer through our experiments (was) … if the quality of the work kind of differed if you were multitasking … if it was really more productive than if you did each task alone,” Josie said.
One experiment sought to discover whether listening to music helped or hindered concentration. To find out, two of the girls were shown items in a certain order. Then the items were mixed up, and the test subjects had to put them back in order.
The girls did the experiment with and without the subjects listening to classical music. They found the subjects remembered the order better with the music playing.
A bigger experiment involved dozens of classmates in an auditorium.
“We found that doing two things at once … really did decrease the quality of work in the end, rather than just doing them both alone,” Josie said.
Designing and performing the experiments was a labor-intensive process.
“We had to film for like six days straight with like seven-hour days of actually filming,” Josie said. “… It’s really exhausting. I never realized how much work it was to sit and talk for seven hours.”
At times the experience seemed surreal to Josie, like the first day when she went in for a microphone and lighting check. Although auditions and the first day of filming were extremely nerve-wracking, she adjusted to the process and quickly learned to ignore the cameras.
That was important, because the show wasn’t scripted. Crews simply captured on film the process the girls went through.
“It was definitely real life,” Josie said. “… We were learning as we were going along.”
That was the point. And that’s whey the casting call was not for actors. Instead, producers sought articulate girls who could understand scientific concepts.
Senior producer Angie Prindle said the team found the cast for this episode by working with Brooklyn Junior High because of the school’s STEM program.
“It made sense … because we knew that it was valued by the school and it was an approach that people were already on board with,” she said.
“We look for girls who have a natural curiosity and are really interested in the subject,” Shugrue said.
That makes it easier to accomplish the goal of helping girls become familiar with the scientific process and how to use science to answer relevant questions.
“What we’re really interested in is modeling, ‘How do you answer that question? What’s your methodology to get that information?’” Shugrue said.
It worked. For Josie, one of the most exciting moments during the experience was when the girls were on stage performing their climactic experiment.
“It all kind of came together,” she said. “And we really answered this question we came up with in the beginning. … We were actually being scientists and solving this problem.”
Josie anticipates using the skills she learned in the future, and she hopes others will also realize that anyone can be a scientist if they put their mind to it.
“This whole experience completely interested me even more in science,” she said. “And now I notice it in my everyday life, just answering everyday questions. It pulls in science everywhere in places you don’t even imagine. It will always be a part of my life.”
To watch “Multimedia Mania” and other episodes of SciGirls, visit tpt.org.