Five Stars Pathway: Engaging Girls in Science

three girls looking through window at lab

Girls Inc. participants in Five Stars
program visit UC Berkeley's
Space Sciences Lab.

About the Five Stars Intergenerational Model

The Five Stars Pathway project created a model in which five “generations” of females engage in science together in an afterschool setting, with each generation representing one stage in the pathway of pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). The five stages are: elementary-age students, middle-school-age students, undergraduate-level college students, graduate-level college students and professional scientists.

Please click on the link above for more information about each of the stages in the intergenerational model.

Curriculum Overview

girl drawing on poster

Girls Inc participant adding
to a poster.

The Five Stars curriculum includes six lesson plans that explore how light from the electromagnetic spectrum is used as a tool for learning about the Sun. Some activities were adapted from existing lesson plans, while others were newly created for the Five Stars project. All lessons were developed in collaboration with Girls Inc. program instructors, undergraduate and graduate students, and scientists. While this curriculum has a focus on heliophysics (sun science), the lessons explore the electromagnetic spectrum in general, since most physics and astronomy undergraduate and graduate students are familiar with the electromagnetic spectrum. The curriculum is designed for middle school participants in afterschool programs. It was field tested at Girls Inc. of the Island City and Girls Inc. of Alameda County.

Recommended Scope & Sequence

The curriculum is designed to be flexible to meet the needs of afterschool programs. If you would like to implement the full curriculum, we recommend that you conduct each lesson in sequence (1, 2, 3...). If you only have time for a few sessions, we recommend that you start with Lesson #2, continue with Lesson #3 and end with Lesson #4. If you are looking for a one-time experience, we recommend that you use either Lesson #1 or Lesson #2. The Concept Cards can be added to each lesson as a way to evaluate the participants' understanding and/or to facilitate discussion between college student role models and middle school participants.

Option 1 – Full Implementation: Lessons 1-6
Option 2 – Partial Implementation: Lessons #2-4
Option 3 – One Time Session Implementation: Lesson #1 or Lesson #2

Science Background Information

Click here for more information about the background science content, including basics about the electromagnetic spectrum and features of the Sun.

Lesson #1: Solar Cookie (PDF)

A cookie with frosting, licorice, sprinkles and m&m's.

Participants create their own edible representations of the Sun using cookies and other baking materials. Images of the Sun in different wavelengths of light help them to realize that the Sun is a dynamic star. This lesson is intended as a fun activity to get participants excited about learning about the electromagnetic spectrum and how it can be used to see different features on the Sun.

Supplementary Files:

Multiwavelength Sun (PDF or PPT)
Solar Features (PDF or PPT)

Lesson #2: Exploring the EM Spectrum (PDF)

girl with ponytail adding to poster Participants explore how the electromagnetic, or EM, spectrum is made up of different wavelengths of light. Using an overhead or LCD projector, participants create a wall chart that displays the component colors of visible light, then expand the chart to include the invisible wavelengths of light (i.e. radio, microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, gamma, x-ray). Pictures of familiar objects are used to illustrate how we use the different wavelengths of light in everyday life.

Supplementary Materials:

Diffraction Slit for LCD Projector (PPT - 33K)

How-To Videos:

+ Watch on YouTube

Lesson #3: Rainbows of Light: the Visible Light Spectrum (PDF)

colorful swirls of light on a black backgroundParticipants use a variety of tools to explore and observe some of the characteristics of visible light. By using prisms, CDs, and diffraction gratings, participants discover the rainbow spectrum that makes up white light. By using slinkies and ropes, participants learn about the way light travels. Participants act as scientists by making observations and recording their data. 

Supplementary Files:

Data Collection Worksheet (PDF)
Wavelengths of Colors (PDF)

Lesson #4: Invisible Light: Ultraviolet (PDF)

hands holding sunglasses and wearing colorful beads

The Sun gives us light here on Earth in many different forms, some that we can see with our eyes and some that we can't. One light form that we cannot see is ultraviolet light, or “UV” for short, but we sense it in different ways. With the help of some little UV beads, you are going to uncover some ways to be safe in the Sun!

Supplementary Materials:

UV Stations Signage (PDF)

Supplementary Video:

+ Watch on YouTube

Lesson #5: Detecting Invisible Light (PDF)

colorful blacklights at a nightclub

In this activity, participants work in small groups to identify the connections between different sources of light and their relevant detectors. The activity has a follow up exploration component in which participants experiment with materials of different types to identify effective shields for light of different wavelengths. This helps increase understanding of the different types of wavelengths of light, how they can be used in everyday life, and how understanding ways to shield detectors from different types of light can be both helpful and a hindrance.

Supplementary Files:

Data Sheet: Light Sources and Detectors (PDF  - 168 KB)
Cards: Electromagnetic Sources and Detectors (PDF- 473 KB)

Lesson #6: Our 3D Sun (PDF)

a colorful paper plate modelBy making a paper model of the Sun, participants will learn about its complex layers in a simple, fun, and non-intimidating way. The different paper elements of the Sunion will symbolize the Sun's dynamic layers, allowing the participants to interact with and consider the components of our star.

Supplementary Files:

Helioviewer Tutorial (PDF - 970 KB)

Concept Cards (PDF)

The Concept Cards are an informal formative evaluation activity which can be added to any of the lesson plans. They can also be used as a way to facilitate discussion between participants and college students who are guest instructors about the college student’s own pathway to studying science.


The Five Stars Pathway: Engaging Girls in Science through Multigenerational Mentors project was funded by NASA EPOESS Grant #NNX12AE26G through the Heliophysics Science Mission Directorate. The project was led by Nancy Alima Ali (Principal Investigator) from the Space Sciences Laboratory at University of California, Berkeley. Girls Inc. of the Island City, Girls Inc. of Alameda County and Girls Inc. National were key collaborators on the project, as were UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students. The Research Group at Lawrence Hall of Science provided the project’s evaluation. Thanks to the following individuals for their contributions to the project:

UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (Berkeley, CA): Nancy Alima Ali (Principal Investigator), Ruth Paglierani, Dr. Laura Peticolas, Dr. Claire Raftery, Darlene Yan, Karin Hauck, Renee Frappier, Igor Ruderman, Dr. Yan Li
Girls Inc. of the Island City (Alameda, CA): Karen Kenney, Christine Chilcott, Diana Cristales, Natalie Duarte, Shampale Williams
Girls Inc. of Alameda County (Oakland, CA): Macha Rose Harper, Monique Hooks, Sarah Taborga, Kiku Johnson, Wendy Calimag
GirIs Inc. National (Indianapolis, IN): Brenda, Stegall, Jennie Mather, Penn Sheppard
UC Berkeley Physics and Astronomy students (Berkeley, CA): Therese Jones, Jenna Pinkham, Siara Hunt, Katherine de Kleer, Alison Hsieh, Michelle Mason
UC Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science Research Group (Berkeley, CA): Valeria Romero, Dr. Ardice Hartry
University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA): Dr. Kristine Sigsbee 
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Cambridge, MA): Dr. Nia Imara
NASA Science Mission Directorate (Washington, DC): Dr. James Lochner, Dr. Therese Kucera

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