Girls 'Disengage' From High School Science

November 2009     High school girls are bored, disengaged and stressed in science classes when compared to boys, Northern Illinois University researchers say. And teachers might not be doing enough to change the situation.


NIU researchers have found that classroom discussions are the only activity to score among the top three most engaging for both boys and girls and are perhaps the optimum way to connect with all science students.


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."


Schmidt and Smith believe teachers can quickly and personally improve their instruction by conducting similar evaluations by simply asking those pointed questions during class. "Teachers really should strive to understand student perspectives. They should make an effort to get student feedback in the moment as things are happening," Smith said. "If they assess and understand student voice, they can bring those perspectives."


From a media release by Northern Illinois University, November 18 2009.



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