Girls in math and science
[08 Oct 2007]
Myth 1: From the time they start school, most girls are less interested in science than boys are.
The reality: [...] The persistence of the stereotypes start to turn girls off, and by eighth grade, boys are twice as interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers as girls are. [...]
Myth 2: Classroom interventions that work to increase girls’ interest in STEM run the risk of turning off the boys.
Reality: Actually, educators have found that interventions that work to increase girls’ interest in STEM also increase such interest among the boys in the classroom. [...]
Myth 3: Science and math teachers are no longer biased toward their male students.
Reality: In fact, biases are persistent, and teachers often interact more with boys than with girls in science and math. A teacher will often help a boy do an experiment by explaining how to do it, while when a girl asks for assistance the teacher will often simply do the experiment, leaving the girl to watch rather than do. [...]
Myth 4: When girls just aren’t interested in science, parents can’t do much to motivate them.
Reality: Parents’ support (as well as that of teachers) has been shown to be crucial to a girl’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math. [...]
Myth 5: At the college level, changing the STEM curriculum runs the risk of watering down important “sink or swim” coursework.
Reality: The mentality of needing to “weed out” weaker students in college majors â€” especially in the more quantitative disciplines â€” disproportionately weeds out women. This is not necessarily because women are failing. Rather, women often perceive “Bs” as inadequate grades and drop out, while men with “Cs” will persist with the class. [...]
“There are helpful strategies for teachers and for families to attract girls to science and keep them engaged in it,” says Jolene Kay Jesse, GSE [Gender in Science and Engineering] program director. “And, by the way, these strategies are helpful in keeping students of both genders engaged.”
The program seeks to broaden the participation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education fields by supporting research, research-based innovations and education add-ons that will lead to a larger and more diverse domestic science and engineering workforce.
Myth 3, the one concerning teachers’ attitudes to girls in science classes, has broader implications.
Unfortunately, many teachers just ‘do the experiment’ when asked a question (by a boy or girl), because the teacher just wants to get it finished in the allotted time. An important part of science education is letting students struggle and fail – and learn from it.