The hard sciences are still a male dominance field. I happen to be a physics teacher, one of few female physics teachers, in a typically male dominated teaching subject. Even though there has been many advancements by women in the science field, we are still misrepresented and as an educator and a female science teacher, I have a goal to figure out why and how we can change that within my school. The goal of this action research assignment is to determine how to increase the number of female student population enrolling and interest in upper level science courses in the 11th and 12th grades.
I have noticed lack of females enrolling in science Advanced Placement (AP) classes or dropping down or out of these classes due to lack of interest or believing it is not the right place for them. There may be other reasons, such as hearing how hard the class is or even the teacher who is teaching it. We currently have about 700 students that make up the junior and senior classes and of our entire population 52% are male and 48% are female.
Of our student body, 66% are White, 20% are Hispanic, 9% are Asian, 3% are African American, with the remaining 2% are American Indian, more than two races or Pacific Islander (ISBE, 2015). Even though the male to female ratio is almost the same, it is observed that females do not have as much interest or motivation in the upper level science classes as their male counterparts. I have had very few minority female students or have seen them taking higher science courses. Looking at our enrollment of female students in AP or higher science courses, 3:1 ratio of male to female students who are taking these courses.
What most do not realize, the higher sciences requires a creative mind and the ability to take on failure as a learning point, where it has been researched that the gender gap we often see is due to creativity in these fields along with males are more willing to take risks and rejections better than females (Hill & Rogers, 2012). Within our school we do not have a push for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields or have a program that could create a better environment for not just females but for all in the school which has been researched to promote females to become interested and support them in such related fields.
Part 2: Literature Review The following literature reviews includes summaries on the research pertaining to why the gender gap exists, what can cause the gap or help close that gap within the high school years, and the influence of the education and local community. The first review focuses on a less researched reason why the gender gap exists besides the most noted as women just choose not to go into the hard sciences. The second literature review discusses how the high school community plays a large role in the gender gap for females perusing hard science fields.
The final review discusses not only gender but also race of women within the science community with the future of science in mind. Creativity Factor Hill and Rogers (2012) discuss how much research that has gone into understanding why the gender gap exists in science and has determined that it is not due to any discrimination, an abundance of research believe it is the female choice and preferences to not go into the hard sciences, but Hill and Rogers state researchers are neglecting one important factor, creativity.
Creativity is a “key factor in high performance mathematic and hard sciences” (p. 21). When you think of science, there is a scientific method students have been taught each year, yet when you go look at Tomas Edison or Albert Einstein, they went through so many ideas and so many failures they had to be creative and use their creative thinking skills to push forward to finally find the way it works. Even though there are steps, these are just guidelines because there are so many factors that we cannot always foresee, those in the hard sciences must be able to think creatively to be successful.
Hill and Rogers (2012) also discussed how men are better able to accept rejection, taking risks, and the ability to get down and dirty with playing and taking things apart. I have noticed within the classroom, the male students when faced with failure in a task do not shut down, but try again, they also think more outside of the box when needing to come up with a solution on how to do a desired task. In projects, they are more willing to take risks, make it harder due to the reward that may follow and they are red to break things apart and try to put it back together. The female students do not have these attributes, they like order and doing it right the first time and shut down or are devastated when something goes wrong.
Hill and Rogers (2012) state an important point, “gender gaps in creativity and related traits such as playfulness, curiosity, commitment, and willingness to take risks” are misrepresented in research since more often women do not have these traits in relation to science and it is partially due to society’s views today (p. 5). The views of Hill and Rogers show that there is more to the gender gap than just the choices made by women not to go into the hard sciences, it has to do much more with society’s view on what girls should be doing and causing the lack of creativity towards activities that enhance scientific thinking. High School Impact Legewie and DiPrete (2014) and Riegle-Crumb and Moore (2014) research articles believe that the high school environment and the presence of STEM related classes impact the gender gap within science related courses.
They discuss how “high school years are actually more important than the college years in determining the size of the gender gap in STEM degrees” (Legewie & DiPrete, 2014, p. 260). Riegle-Crumb and Moore (2014) believe that high school physics, typically taught during junior or senior year, is the location at which the pattern of the gender gap starts to become more prevalent.
They both stress the importance of the environment the school creates in terms of STEM related curriculum. Legewie and DiPrete discuss the involvement of teachers and their role in building up female students’ confidence and importance of their role in these types of STEM fields and classes. Also, Riegle-Crumb and Moore, state the role of women in the community with occupations in STEM will have an increasing effect and decrease the gender gap.
There needs to be more focus and involvement in creating an environment within the high school for female students to believe the hard sciences can be an option for them. There is a lot of research that females score higher in classes typically dominated by men, but they seem to lack that motivation since they do not have the role models males have in these fields. Legewie and DiPrete (2014) state females going to a school that supports STEM “reduces the gender gap by 25 percent or more and the schools impact is durable” (p. 75).
Both of these articles discuss the importance of high school and the environment it creates along with the role STEM and the women in the community with such related jobs, can be a large impact on female students which supports my view on my action research on the environment that is created within the school. Gender as well as Race Hanson provides a lot of statistics pertaining to how under represented not only females are in STEM related fields but the female minorities.
Hanson (2012) addresses the fact that even though the population is essentially split in half by gender, yet in the science workforce, it is quite different with “only 37% female and 11% underrepresented minorities” (p. 113). Hanson makes the point that “the underrepresentation of women and minorities in science positions robs employers of diverse strategies, skills, and competence that translate into economic gain in the age of the global markets” (p. 114).
This shows how both male and females think differently and can make valuable contributions, yet there is not enough support for female students or minorities to want to pursue the hard sciences. Just like Legewie et al and Riegle-Crumb et al, state STEM IS important, Hanson believed it should be present in high school but important to introduce STEM early on and have advanced tracks available later in education, along with making science more assessable with hands on and cooperative learning opportunities (Hanson, 2012).
It was also researched that when we think of scientists, it is always a man in a lab coat, if we look in science text books only 34% of images were of female scientists and more often than not, the pictures of men are white, and many myths about females, minorities and science all contribute to the gender gap (Hanson, 2012). Females and minorities still have many challenges they face not just in science but in many aspects in the United States.
Unfortunately, education systems, politics, and big business are maintaining the barriers we have for women and minorities, when the diversity they would bring to the science workforce, would actually bring a competitive edge (Hanson, 2012). The research done here, only shows there needs to be a major shift and it starts within the classroom.