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Bialik of 'The Big Bang Theory' Talks Teaching Science

It's not every day you get a press pitch to interview an actress who starred in one of your favorite TV shows from childhood. It's also not often a working actress has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and teaches middle and high school students biology and chemistry in her spare time. For those reasons, I couldn't resist setting up a short conversation with Mayim Bialik—better known as the bright and spunky teenager Blossom in my middle school years, and now known as the quirky neurobiologist, Amy Farrah Fowler, on The Big Bang Theory.
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Bialik's publicist reached out to us because the actress has just become a spokeswoman for Texas Instruments' new suped-up calculator, the TI-Nspire CX. The company is also donating $40,000 in STEM technology and professional development to two schools in Chicago this evening, at TI's annual PD conference, and Bialik will be speaking to the audience of teachers.

Bialik—who playfully described herself as a "nerd" several times during the interview—is not the only actor to get involved in education initiatives recently (remember, for instance, Matt Damon at the SOS March last summer?). But she does have unique connections to education. Both of Bialik's parents were teachers—the two of them, she said, had a total of about 75 years of teaching experience. And, between the filming of The Big Bang Theory and her other on-screen gigs, the actress teaches biology, chemistry, and neuroscience to homeschooled students. She holds classes of up to about a dozen students, ranging in age from 10 to 16, in a Los Angeles home. While some of her students are being homeschooled full-time, others are "taking a year or semester to do specialized learning, and then go back to school," she explained. Bialik makes an effort to modify instruction for each student's level, she said, and is aware "about not expecting the same thing from every student even if they are the same age."

With her TI partnership, Bialik said she hopes to bring awareness to women in STEM—something she's also tried to do through her work on The Big Bang Theory. "It's one thing to have someone on T.V. who plays a scientist—and who actually is a scientist—but to have that be a female face, it's ... hopefully powerful," she said.

A recent study by the Girl Scouts found that a majority of teenage girls are interested in STEM but very few consider it a top career choice. So associating prominent women with science and math very well could be a good place to start shifting the fields' gender balance.

For more of our recent coverage on girls and STEM, see this interview with the 2011 National Teacher of the Year Michele Shearer and the archived PD webinar "Engaging Girls and Other Underrepresented Populations in STEM."

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