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New Study on High School Students Attitudes in Science Classes

November 24, 2009

A new study from Northern Illinois University reports some interesting differences in the way high school students respond to science classes, based on their gender: male students report being more engaged by “public” activities like presentations and labs, while the female students in the study preferred more individual activities like listening to lectures and working on assignments. In addition, female students reported feeling more stress and boredom in their science classes than the male students, while the male students felt they were better skilled in the material and concentrated more in class.

(To be honest, the bit I found most concerning was the level of challenge – the average student response to how challenged they felt by the class was “a little”, and the average response was “somewhat” to the amount of new material being learned. No wonder many students feel that intro level science classes are difficult – and possibly leave science for another field…)

Are we losing too many potentially talented women scientists in high school – and how can we change that? What about your own recollection of those classes – if you felt this way in high school, what changed your mind?

Links: the initial findings report from NIU; an article on the the report from Noble Intent (Ars Technica)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. annette permalink
    January 11, 2010 7:12 pm

    In elementry school my dad bought me science projects to play with on my own time. This peaked my interest because it was a game i was just playing. In jr high my teachers always kept the class very diverse by having lecture as well as hands on projects.This allowed me to engage in what was comfortable for me and as a result i grew from the experience. I had one teacher who did a cool science project before each class that peaked everyones interest. In highschool I had teachers that were patient, nuturing, and available. In college i majored in science and did very well, now imstudying to be a nurse.

  2. Rose permalink
    November 24, 2009 8:21 pm

    Personally, I decided in high school that I wanted to be a scientist. Classes were definitely not as challenging as the could have and should have been, but I had a good rapport with my science teachers and liked discovery. It seems to me adults and teachers set low expectations for students, something I struggle to change as I now mentor high school students in my adulthood.

    Despite my decision, I was told by my school’s guidance counselor–the gate keeper for college applications–that I would not be endorsed to apply to Purdue engineering, my school and program of choice. I was told I had too big a personality and was too social to excel at engineering. Despite my standardized test scores and already taking college level physics in the 12th grade.

    I am glad I have an A.B. now, but my guidance counselor’s advice did change the course of my study. My small liberal arts college did not have as many science programs, and no engineering. With a major in the social sciences, I was placed into my required math and science classes under the instruction of some graduate students who were not as interested in our learning as their own research (at least if felt to me) while science majors got access to professors and mentors.

    My suggestion for getting more high school students involved in science? Don’t compromise quality or underestimate any students ability. My years of mentoring show me what kids that age like almost more than anything is competition and reward, so make the study intense and let them rise to the occasion. In parallel, we need more qualified science teachers out there influencing these students. This gets into policy issues, mostly at the state levels, too large for any individual to address. Still, if you are a scientist reading this, go out and volunteer to tutor or mentor a student and don’t be shy to stray off of the curriculum and into your personal story of success or research. So many students are never exposed to REAL science.

    The only real hurdle I see once the possibilities of science study are better presented and encouraged in high school students is the “nerd” stigma. What I hope is the university trend of inter-departmental collaboration will make its way down to the high school level and we’ll see art teachers collaborating with science teachers on spectra. Or science and history re-enacting a great discovery. Or phys-ed! Take the students to do field work, it can totally be a work-out! There are opportunities all over a teenagers life to make science more tangible and relevant than the simplified (and sometimes outdated) textbooks they now have.

  3. November 24, 2009 4:01 pm

    Interesting study, thanks for posting this!

    I think what happens to student in high school definitely plays a role, but of course it is complex. I was a student who liked all subjects. What kept me in science was having good science teachers who told me I was good at science and encouraged me to continue taking science classes beyond the required ones.

    What to do about it is such a hard question! Paying teachers more always seems like it would help with a lot of issues, but of course that is easier said then done. Telling students more about the extremely wide range of things they can do with “science” always seems like a good idea too (for example I really had no exposure to engineering at all in high school).

    Washington University has a program called the young scientist program, which has the specific aim of getting high school students involved in science. They coordinate several programs such as pairing high school students with university mentors to do work over the summer, coordinating “graduate student teaching teams” which go out to science classes at the high schools and do activities, and bringing women high school students to Washington University for a day of activities (Women in Science Day which I help run). They also have a program to help get supplies like glassware to high schools that labs at Wash U. would otherwise be throwing away. This program is grant funded and has a dedicated staff person, so I don’t know if it would be replicable elsewhere or not, but it basically takes advantage of resources at the university to reach out to high schools.

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