¨ Michelle Mock on 7 January 2003
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ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 7 January 2003:
Much of this is a normal part of adolescence and there really isn't much we can do about it. Having special programs for girls (or all girls schools) which allow them to experience math, science and/or technology without competing with the boys is okay for some girls and may help in some cases. However, I am opposed to putting too much emphasis on segregation within co-ed settings. I think girls need to learn how to believe in themselves and hold their own within the confines of their co-educational classrooms. They need to know it is okay to be "nerd" or a "geek" and embrace the labels with a sense of humor and confidence.
Girls who ARE interested in science in math through middle and high school will often tell you that they enjoy science and math and for most of them, the interest was nurtured when they were in elementary school.
I believe that teachers at all levels need to believe in the capabilities of all their students. We need to inspire girls (and boys too) in the elementary years. Give them opportunities to get hooked on the wonders of science, math and technology. Let them dream big dreams of becoming whatever they want to be. It's perfectly okay for a girl to want to be both an actress or model AND an engineer or scientist. Let them know it is okay to change their mind about a possible career.
It is also perfectly okay for an elementary teacher not to know everything! Many teachers at the elementary level do not have strong science and math backgrounds. Often when it comes to science and math, they will teach only what is in the textbook because they don't have the answers for questions that are beyond the text. Elementary school teachers should believe in their own abilities and give their students the confidence to discover things beyond the classroom. "Not knowing" can be empowering when we tell our students, "I don't know, let's find out!"
We can inspire children in the elementary years and plant the seeds that let them believe they can be successful in math, science and technology fields. The seeds may lie dormant for a while as children negotiate the teen years, but as they mature, those seeds will sprout and interest will bloom again.
I like to think of it as nurturing little acorns so they may one day become mighty oaks... reaching for the sky.
ANSWER from Deidre LaClair on 13 January 2003:
ANSWER from Steven Dworetzky on 21 January 2003:
ANSWER from Wendy Wooten on 21 January 2003:
I think the style of delivery of the material is of greatest importance in exciting and stimulating the students. I also think that challenging the students to think creatively through projects or hands-on activities are the most engaging assignments. I have tried to employ these techniques in my teaching, and have found them to be quite successful in catching the attention of all students.
ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 25 January 2003:
I must say that I have largely "skipped" the girl-science dilemma. I have been interested in science since I was little, and have been determined to become a scientist. As far as being female, I personally have not given much thought about being in a male-dominated field. If I want to do something, I want to be the best, and if I beat all the girls AND the boys, then my day has been made!
Although not in my personal experience, I am sure many girls get turned off by the middle-aged-man-in-a-labcoat descriptor. In western society, it may appear that women are (or almost) equals. But words say little. One can watch a few minutes of television and see how our society treats women. Our culture allows for women in science in theory, but it certainly does not popularize it in practice. We still consider girls to be inferior to boys. While modern western society has made large progresses in gender equality, there is a lot that has not changed at all. For example, some girls do not make the effort to do well in school and go into scientific fields for fear of turning off boys. There are many other examples of this thinking.
I believe that both genders, while in elementary school, are starved of science education. Most teachers at this level are not science-minded/trained. But it is at this level where children are most receptive, so the opportunity to inspire girls (and boys) is lost.
In high school, girls interested in science are not necessarily labelled "geek" or "nerd". Rather, I believe that these labels are placed on those that are non-popular and generally more academic. "Academic" is not synonymous with science, but certainly girls that are science-minded tend to be more academic in nature. From what I have observed, the general population (adults and peers) all think it is weird if a girl is interested in "hard-core" science (essentially the non-biological sciences) or engineering. While not necessarily awkward for the girl, others tend to behave as if it's an exceptional thing. People tend to be quite surprised and make jokes and have reservations.
What can be done in the classroom? Start them out young. Introduce girls and boys to science and technology early and let their interests bloom. In my opinion, it is important not to segregate women and men into separate categories. If you want to show kids some of the people in science, don't make a separate "women" unit. Treating girls as special cases will only expand the gender gap. Show kids science from different angles and showcase women and men in an identical manner. Provide girls with sources of female inspiration, while at the same time not treating it as though women have to have this push, to get their word out, or that women will find problems in the workplace. I find that many female outreach programs emphasize the problems that a woman will face rather than the job itself (being a woman first, then a scientist second). Society will never be equal if we still think in terms of women and men, and not just people.
Should girls work together with girls? Is there an advantage to it? In some cases, all-girls schools make be the right choice for a child. Some girls get distracted by boys and thus, their academics fail. Take away the boys and you get rid of the problem (at least during school hours). Some girls work better with girls because they are intimidated by the boys, especially in the sciences. Yes, that is sometimes true. The boys can take over the project, but the girls also can too. However, the opposite grouping might be true as well. Some girls work better with boys. It may be in this case that the girl can interact more effectively with this gender, or perhaps she likes the satisfaction of "beating even the boys". You see this even with boys. Some boys always work with the girls. There's nothing wrong with that. Whether you think we should have separate or co-ed education, it should be noted that kids should have experience in all sorts of groups. It may very well be that the child will eventually work every day with all-girls, all-boys, or a mix of both. Keep an open door, and let them experience everything.
I am currently in a mathematics program, and there are not that many girls taking pure math. I find it a very interesting program to take. I personally don't really care whether there is a larger proportion of boys in my classes (there is a fair number of girls in all my classes, actually). I do what I enjoy. Suffice to say, I usually end up working on assignments with the other girls in the class. Girls often gravitate to other girls in a classroom, but that happens likewise with boys, too. If there are no girls to work with, then the girl shouldn't have a problem finding boys to work with (if there is a problem, maybe the boys are missing something vital in their education). Men may be from Mars, but the Venus-Mars distance is very close on astronomical scales! My eventual goal is to become an engineer and a researcher. Engineering is still dominated by men, but it is happy to see 30% of enrollment at my university is female. Many of the girls end up taking chemical engineering, which is again the turn to the "softer" sciences. But I for one, who is again going the other way, will not be fazed.
ANSWER from Evelyn Torres-Rangel on 14 February 2003:
30 June 2006
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