Girl’s Education


Girls’ Education in Mathematics and Science Christina Park

Girl’s Education Girls’ Education in Mathematics and Science


The subjects of math and science seem to have equal appeal to girls and boys until the middle school years, when girls begin to lose interest in these classes. By the end of high school, few girls pursue advanced math and science courses, sealing off future opportunities in science and technology, which provide some of the highest-paying jobs. This creates a gender gap in math and science achievement, resulting in a noticeable lack of female representation in these fields. (AAUW, 1992), (NYS Occupational Education Equity Center, 1995), (Zohar, 2005). In the effort to eliminate this gap and increase high-paying job opportunities for girls, researchers have studied the female students’ experience in high school physics and math classes to determine the cause of their lack of interest and confidence in these subjects, (NYS OEEC, 1995), (Zohar, 2005). In a recent, comprehensive meta-analysis using 81 international studies, researchers found an unusually high degree of gender bias present in these classes against female students’ participation coming from their teachers, their teenage male peers, and sometimes even their parents, (NCGS, 1993), (NYS OEEC, 1995), (Zohar, 2005). Girls are given a sense of alienation from these fields by attitudes that females do not belong practicing math and science and have no future in it. These attitudes are communicated by classroom dynamics, which give boys more attention in class than girls, and ignore innate abilities in females, (Sadker & Zittleman, 2005), (NYS OEEC, 1995), (NCGS, 1993), (Zohar, 2005). Also, their teachers were found to frequently counsel females against advanced study in these subjects, while encouraging males with average grades to continue in the field, (NYS OEEC, 1995), (Zohar, 2005). Contributing to this bias is current science and math curriculum and textbook materials which, despite years of Title IX reforms, almost unanimously ignore female scientists and mathematicians in history, only citing the work of males in the field; many even reinforce

Girl’s Education stereotypes, (NYS OEEC, 1995), (Sadker & Zittleman, 2002/2003). This applies to three of today’s leading teachers’ science texts and three of the leading teachers’ math texts, (Sadker & Zittleman, 2002/2003).


The traditional ways of teaching these subjects also causes most girls to tune out, since they involve methods that are oriented to male learning styles. Lessons favor the use of lectures, competitive activities, working in isolation, criticism of thinking, and theoretical abstract exercises with no real world context, all of which appeal to boys but not to girls, (Pierce, 1998), (Zohar, 2005). Nationwide goals for ridding the school system of gender-biased attitudes will require educational reforms on state education department levels, altering policies to change textbook standards and setting clearer guidelines for providing a more gender-equitable learning environment, (NYS OEEC, 1995). However administrators and educators can significantly change the female educational experience in science and math classes with reforms in their approach to teaching. Preventing teaching methods from being dominated by male-type thinking can eliminate the sense of alienation from the field that girls feel, (Pierce, 1998). Eliminating pervasive gender bias requires that these teaching reforms must address males as well as females, (NCGS, 1993). According to the National Association for Women in Education, creating a female-inclusive learning environment in the school system is a matter of adjusting what is taught, and how it is taught, (Pierce, 1998). Curriculum and content that includes the work, achievements, and perspectives of women, acknowledging their heroism when appropriate, is essential for students to recognize women as contributors to human civilization, (Pierce, 1998). One leader in the field of science who should be included in curriculum is Rachel Carson, a scientist and the author of “Silent Spring”, written

Girl’s Education


in 1962. Her book gave birth to the environmental movement by revealing the ecological threat of chemical toxicity. She finished the book while battling terminal cancer and enduring pressure from corporations who opposed her work, (Pierce, 1998). Another famous scientist is the molecular biologist Barbara McClintock, (Pierce, 1998). The work of these pioneers needs to be included in basic science curriculum to relay a message to female and male students that women are a part of math and science and belong in the class, (Sadker & Zittleman, 2002/2003). A number of studies conducted on how women learn confirm that there is significant difference in the way that males and females perceive and assimilate concepts, (Zohar, 2005). When science and math teachers teach abstract principles using a masculine style of reasoning, females generally lose interest, (Zohar, 2005). The book “Women’s Ways of Knowing” refers to this as the difference between “separate knowing” and “connective knowing”, (NCGS, 1993). Furthermore, the masculine style of learning or coming to conclusions is “exclusionary”, while the feminine style of learning is “inclusionary”, (Pierce, 1998). Essentially, this means that male thinking, or “separate knowing”, approaches abstract concepts without context to its origin or its consequences on society. No connection to meaning or purpose is used to work with abstract equations, and so concepts and laws seem unrelated to each other or to the real world. Male “exclusionary” information processing approaches learning by doubting the information being presented to clarify it or test it through argument. One person is right, the other is wrong, and competition is the technique for arriving at truth, (NCGS, 1993), (Pierce, 1998), (Zohar, 2005). Female thinking, on the other hand, is “connected” in that they look for the abstract concepts that connect science and math exercises to real life, revealing what causes things to happen and what consequences are created by things that happen. Their learning process is “inclusive”, so

Girl’s Education that instead of doubting and criticizing the presented information they believe it and test it by


trying it on, mentally, seeing it as potentially complimentary to their own view. They clarify or test information by adding other perspectives to their own experience to complete a picture and make it collective information, (Pierce, 1998), (Zohar, 2005). Many consider this to be a form of critical thinking just as valid as the traditional competitive form, making scientific thought more holistic, (Pierce, 1998). This type of thinking broadens the science education experience to include the consideration of social and ethical issues, as well as innovative social uses of its principles, (NCGS, 1993), (Pierce, 1998). For this reason, traditional teaching techniques like competitive races, dichotomous critical arguments, lecturing, rote learning, and mechanical problem-solving drills don’t engage girls in class, (Zohar, 2005). Teaching science from a “connected” reasoning style would involve introducing abstract principles by relating their use to the student’s own life experiences and instinctual knowledge, giving meaning to the material and demonstrating that these new ideas are compatible with their existing knowledge, (NCGS, 1993), (Pierce, 1998), (Zohar, 2005). Other techniques that have proven successful with girls include relating technical knowledge as instruments for solving real-life problems by discussing them in the context of social and environmental topics familiar to everyone such as petroleum, industry, and everyday household appliances, (NYS OEEC, 1995), (Zohar, 2005). Critical thinking can be taught by an educator modeling critical self-reflection and appreciation of different perspectives by testing their own beliefs to rid them of individual bias, (Pierce, 1998). Teaching techniques preferred by girls involve cooperative work in a relaxed environment such as small group discussions, investigative group work, sharing information, and equal sharing of time between students for answering questions and being responded to, (NCGS,

Girl’s Education 1993), (Pierce, 1998), (AAUW, 1992), (Zohar, 2005). Hands on learning, such as lab work,


invention projects, and on the field observation, engages girls and holds their interest, (AAUW, 1992), (Chu & Danke, 2000), (NYS OEEC, 1995), (Pierce, 1998). Exposure to role models in the fields of math, physics, technology, engineering, and other sciences is particularly effective in motivating girls because meeting these women gives girls a way of identifying themselves with the field, (NYS OEEC, 1995). Sally Ride, a scientist and the first American woman in space, started the “Sally Ride Science Festival” for girls to hear her stories about being an astronaut. Additional workshops included interacting with other female scientists in building their own volcano using kitchen chemicals, playing Jeopardy with knowledge on energy conservation, creating three-dimensional animations, and viewing a giant Lego rocket, (Steindorf, 2002). Some institutions launch other role-model projects such as inviting female professionals to speak to students in order to give them insight into the nature of the work entailed and academic requirements for career planning. Other projects have developed online mentoring programs, or telementoring, where female professionals engage in dialog with female students, (Chu & Danke, 2000). Projects have also been created to evoke parental support for girls by using after school clubs or workshops to engage parents in science and math activities with their daughters. This can help parents overcome anxiety regarding these subjects and the effects of these male-associated subjects on their daughters’ reputation, (NYS OEEC, 1995). School Libraries can facilitate and even inspire teacher’s efforts to create gender-equitable learning. Providing gender-equity training materials that heighten teachers’ awareness of the inequities girls must overcome can motivate teachers to change their habits and can offer them new teaching approaches that work for girls, (Chu & Danke, 2000). Libraries can provide more

Girl’s Education biographies and books on female figures in scientific professions, helping to fill in the current gaps in the curriculum. Libraries can get involved in exposing girls to role models by having female professional speaker events or starting a telementoring project. Providing a welcoming


atmosphere for parent-student science and math activity clubs can inspire new perceptions in the family and learning community, (AAUW, 1992). Reintegrating female thinking styles into the learning process is necessary for closing the gender gap in math and science achievement. Furthermore, both female and male students stand to gain from holistic critical thinking, which enables them to look at the consequences of scientific work and research options before making a decision, (NCGS, 1993), (Pierce, 1998). The professions of science and technology need to be influenced by this type of thinking for the development of a more responsible scientific community.

Girl’s Education References Chu, Beatriz, & Darke, Katherine C. (2000, January). Innovations in Intervention Settings.


WEEA Digest, WEEA Equity Resource Center: 12+. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from The Contemporary Women's Issues database. Math & Science for Girls. (1993). Math & Science for Girls. Washington, DC: National Coalition of Girls' Schools. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from The Contemporary Women's Issues database. New York State, Alliance for Girls and Women in Technology. (1995). Girls and Women in Technology-A Call to Action-Preparing Girls and Women for A Technological Workforce. Albany, New York: NYS Occupational Education Equity Center. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from The Contemporary Women's Issues database. Pierce, Gloria. (1998, Winter). An Inclusive Paradigm for Education-Valuing the Different Voice. Initiatives, 58(3): 57-66. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from The Contemporary Women's Issues database. Sadker, David, & Zittleman, Karen. (2005, April/March). Closing the Gender Gap-Again! Principal, 86(4): 19–22. Retrieved January 23, 2007, from the Wilson Web database. Sadker, David, & Zittleman, Karen. (2002, December/ 2003, January). Teacher Education Textbooks: The Unfinished Gender Revolution. Educational Leadership. Retrieved January 23, 2007, from Steindorf, Sara. (2002, March 19). Sally Ride Enters New Frontier: Convincing Girls That Science Is Cool. Christian Science Monitor, 94 (79): 12. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from The Contemporary Women's Issues database.

Girl’s Education The AAUW Report. (1992). How Schools Shortchange Girls. Washington, DC: American


Association of University Women Educational Foundation. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from The Contemporary Women's Issues database. Zohar, Anat. (2005, January). Physics Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs Regarding Girls’ Low Participation Rates in Advanced Physics Classes. International Journal of Science Education 27(1): 61-77. Retrieved February 5, 2007, from The Academic Search Premier database.