Friday, 8 February 2013

Gender divide in science, what can we do?

An article on the Guardian website offers advice as to how to reduce the gender divide in science subjects and how to best teach science to girls.

There are a number of problems with the article, nicely outlined by @soozaphone in this blog post. In summary of the article, it was an amalgamation of some US government advice from a large study, some data from recent test results (US) and some strange tips and opinions from 'experts' about how best to teach science to girls, although it isn't entirely clear who provided which pieces of information and advice. For an overview of an evidence based approach to encouraging both genders in science subjects (and recognising potential differences) see this post by Chris Chambers and Kate Clancy in the Guardian.


I believe it needs to be a collaborative effort across society with many small changes that may, slowly create an impact. Kate and Chris discuss here how challenging societal constraints and identifying and addressing structural inequality in our societies can support this goal. They call for a systematic approach to encouraging girls and boys in science, and I couldn't agree more. 


I think the next level of the debate has to be, what good, sound advice is there for those that want to teach, and encourage girls in STEM subjects?

Looking at the government report mentioned in the first Guardian article, it pulls out some key advice points, backed by findings in the report 'Encouraging girls in maths and science' from the National Centre for Education (US). I wanted to highlight the study mentioned as a source for the article, as I haven't seen much discusson about it.


Recommendations (table from the National Centre for Education Website)


Recommendation
Level of Evidence
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.Source PDF – 1249 KBStrong
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.Source PDF – 1249 KBModerate
3.Teachers should expose girls to female role models who have achieved in math or science in order to promote positive beliefs regarding women’s abilities in math and science. Even in elementary school, girls are aware of the stereotype that men are better in math and science than women are. Exposing girls to female role models (e.g., through biographies, guest speakers, or tutoring by older female students) can invalidate these stereotypes. Source PDF – 1249 KBMinimal
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.Source PDF – 1249 KBModerate
5.Teachers should provide opportunities for students to engage in spatial skills training. Spatial skills training is associated with performance in mathematics and science. Source PDF – 1249 KBMinimal

This study and advice was offered back in 2007 and it seems fairly sound. What would be interesting would be to see if any of these methods had an impact on girls in science, maths and engineering between 2007-2012.

Everyone has lots of opinions on what should be done to encourage and reduce the divide. But are there any measures and evaluated advice that can really show if we are making a difference or not? 







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