What about boys – same motivations? is it also a preference based on societal expectations, or is it actual interest on the subjects?

]]>The real problem with getting them to stay in physics was explained by a current college junior at a large university: On most nights, his non-science major friends would drop by his room to see what was up and get confused that he was “working.” He had to explain over and over, while they had their evenings free, he had to work. Now it’s not quite the same for my former students in small liberal arts colleges… even the dance majors there apparently have lots to do outside of class meeting time. But the perceived difficulty of remaining in good academic standing when you are in the sciences chases some students off. I hope we have helped our students develop a little more backbone than that.

In response to your question about why we should “force” students to take algebra and physics, I should clarify my milieu: there are no students at my school who are not already deeply committed to going to college. Most see themselves in the future doing very intellectually challenging work. This is not a public school, nor is it a haven for the idle rich. The mission of the school is to live in the service of others, and, by golly, that’s going to take some serious preparation. So my starting point for convincing any student to take physics is quite different than that of other physics teachers.

]]>The second item above is exactly what we are trying to do with standards based grading. Our feedback is very specific to the clearly identified learning goals. We are getting better and better at giving students guidance in how to “practice” physics on their own. As the year goes on, more and more this practice takes place outside the classroom, at whatever pace or urgency the student chooses (self-regulation/self-assessment could be thought of as yet another meta-curriculum that we teach).

Your third item is the one we have to work on. Before girls even enter our classroom, they run a gauntlet of pictures of old white men. An alumnus gifted the school his collection of pictures of Nobel laureates whom he has personally met. We need to balance that out with pictures of all of the fabulous female scientists we’ve had visit for our Crump Physics Lecture Series. And we need to think more about the problems we give… I can’t remember where, but somewhere recently I read a nice paper about unintentional male bias in physics problems– change the problems slightly, everyone does better.

]]>For what it’s worth, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has a 47-page document that you can download, called Encouraging Girls in Math and Science: IES Practice Guide (Sept. 2007). (Google it.) Its authors are six researchers. They find moderate evidence for these three actions. I quote:

(1) Teachers should explicitly teach students that academic abilities are expandable and improvable in order to enhance girls’ beliefs about their abilities. Students who view their cognitive abilities as fixed from birth or unchangeable are more likely to experience decreased confidence and performance when faced with difficulties or setbacks. Students who are more confident about their abilities in math and science are more likely to choose elective math and science courses in high school and more likely to select math and science-related college majors and careers.

(2) Teachers should provide students with prescriptive, informational feedback regarding their performance. Prescriptive, informational feedback focuses on strategies, effort, and the process of learning (e.g., identifying gains in children’s use of particular strategies or specific errors in problem solving). Such feedback enhances students’ beliefs about their abilities, typically improves persistence, and improves performance on tasks.

(4) Teachers can foster girls’ long-term interest in math and science by choosing activities connecting math and science activities to careers in ways that do not reinforce existing gender stereotypes and choosing activities that spark initial curiosity about math and science content. Teachers can provide ongoing access to resources for students who continue to express interest in a topic after the class has moved on to other areas.

]]>Why is it important for more girls to take physics?

This ties into a current discussion at math-teach about why schools started forcing everyone to take algebra and fail. It started with the realization that in Finland only 55% of the students go on to high school, the other 45% take the option to go to vocational school, do something they want to do, and be rid of academics forever. Here though, we torment students with algebra and other topics, that they are not interested in and cannot pass, for years and if they manage to hang on that long we torment them even further in community college. By that time, the same Finnish student has already learned a trade and is earning a living.

Here is a thread discussing Finland, the actual educational system in Finland, fair warning, it will make you think twice about what we do to children in our interests …

http://mathforum.org/kb/thread.jspa?threadID=2340957&tstart=45

http://mathforum.org/kb/message.jspa?messageID=7663681&tstart=45

http://mathforum.org/kb/message.jspa?messageID=7663493&tstart=45

Here is some digging into how this trend started and drifted so far from the choices found in other countries…

http://mathforum.org/kb/message.jspa?messageID=7674300&tstart=0

Bob Hansen

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