21.11.09

DON'T SQUANDER THE ADVANTAGES. A team of Northern Illinois University researchers investigates the science gender gap.

Girls enjoy science less. They concentrate less. They doubt their skills. They’re bored. They’re stressed. They’re less intrigued by a challenge.

Ironically, many girls earn good grades in science but still feel less competent than their grades would indicate. Also, both genders report similar levels of hard work, living up to the teacher’s expectations and the value of science to themselves and to their future. Meanwhile, even though more boys than girls told the researchers that science is challenging, boys reported more confidence in their skills and a higher level of concentration in class.

The largest gender difference is in ninth-grade general science classes; the imbalance appears to narrow by the time students reach physics, usually a junior- or senior-level course.

Of great concern to the researchers is their finding that as the challenge of the material rises, girls become less engaged. A similar response is seen concerning the perceived importance of the material. In both cases, boys intensify their engagement.

Girls also respond negatively to “public” activities in science class, such as lab work and giving presentations. They rate lectures and completing work at their seats as the most engaging classroom activities. In contrast, boys eagerly greet opportunities to “show what they know.”

The summary doesn't specify what "perceived importance" refers to. It also suggests that some of the active learning methods so popular with reformers have downsides. One of the researchers tells the Northern Star that more research is useful.
“I often hear teachers ask ‘how can I motivate my students?’” [educational psychology and foundations professor M. Cecil] Smith said. “I feel very strongly that that’s really the wrong question. A better question is ‘How can I create the sorts of conditions in which my students feel motivated?’ Potentially, I think this work could have some implications for that.”
Preferably, if the work does not squander the potential of numerically-inclined males in the process.

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