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Explore & Discover: Using Math & Science Resources

presented by
Betsy O'Day and Elaine Warn
of Heart of Missouri

This presentation was my THIRD choice for this time slot, and it turned out to be one of my favorites! The passion and enthusiasm of the trainers really sold this subject.

The basic reference in this area -- why we have to do it in the first place -- can be found in the 1991 AAUW study, Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America. (A 24-page Executive Summary is available in PDF format on the internet. These discuss the apparent relative lack of interest on the part of girls in the fields of math and science.

While there are many interesting experiments which can be used in a troop setting, getting the girls to respond the way we'd like can be difficult. They tend to have been conditioned to do exactly what they're told (they "follow directions well"); they're reluctant to "play". This makes attempts to find things out -- try variations on a standard demonstration to see what happens -- hard for them. If a girl gives an answer or makes a prediction which turns out to be incorrect, they may not volunteer again for months! (This can be avoided by a "Let's look a little deeper" series, where the leader can get some accurate responses from them.)

An aside made by Betsy -- GRAPH! Anything you can possibly graph, do so! Try to get them thinking that it's fun to graph stuff -- they'll need these skills later, and if they shut down now, they'll find it extremely difficult to acquire the skills when they need them.

Girls are Great, Aren't They?

by Betsy O'Day

The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation released a study on gender equity in schools in 1991 -- Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America. It was an eye opener for teachers, parents, youth organizations and policymakers. In addition, it brought much media attention. So what has changed over the last nine years and where are we now?

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, female students are similar to males in completion of high school mathematics courses. More than half of both in 1992 took algebra I, algebra II and geometry. Far fewer took trigonometry or calculus; however, the percentages for male and female were virtually the same. The proportion of both male and females taking trig and calculus increased from 1984 to 1992. Assessment records to this point show that male students' achievement in mathematics was higher than female students achievement. By 1996, the gender gap in mathematics achievement had almost disappeared.

In 1994, male and female students were also similar in high school science courses. Female students were slightly more likely to take biology and chemistry and male students were more likely to take physics. 1996 science achievement shows female students scoring slightly lower than male students. Examining SAT scores (only looking at scores for students who reported taking the highest levels of mathematics and science -- calculus and physics) showed that women scored on average lower than men -- a 37 and 35 point gap respectively. This gap is similar to that for women and men test takers in general. The proportion of higher income groups taking the test are evenly split between male and female; however, among lower income students, women account for 60 percent of the test takers. Since parental income is related to average scores, the higher proportion of women test takers who are from lower income families would reduce the averages for women test takers.

One thing I find that they do not take into consideration is that biology, algebra I, algebra II and geometry are usually required courses for graduation. Therefore, the male and female students taking these courses are likely to be similar. Some school districts also require chemistry for graduation. Physics is almost never a requirement and always an elective. That is where we begin to see the current gender gap.

The number of science and engineering doctorate degrees awarded to women increased 69 percent in the 10-year period from 1985 to 1995. The proportion increased from 26 to 31 percent of total science and engineering degrees. Women constitute 51 percent of the U.S. population, 46 percent of the U.S. labor force and 22 percent of scientists and engineers in the labor force. Full-time employed women scientists and engineers generally earn less than their male counterparts; however, gender difference in salaries can be explained primarily by the difference in age and field. Women scientists and engineers are younger and less likely to be in computer science or engineering fields that command the higher salaries. Men and women scientists are equally likely to be managers; however, mean re more likely to be high level managers. Women who are managers tend to have fewer subordinates than men.

As we have become aware of the gender gap, we have improved. Can we still do better? How are we, as a society, still perpetuating the gender gap? I think we tend to do and say the things we have always said as parents, teachers and youth leaders, not realizing how much they impact our girls. For example, "Boys will be boys", or "Oooh spiders", or as women, "I was just never any good at math and/or science". "Well-behaved girls don't act like that." Or do you choose to do activities with your troop that are traditionally "girl things". Is there a mix of activities done with girls that help them to build confidence in themselves to try new things? Self-esteem is a result of confidence. Confidence is built upon achievement. Achievement occurs when we try and fail or try and succeed. As you examine your language used with the children you are around, become aware of the subtle messages you are giving. Examine your activities. Don't be afraid to try new things. Together we can send the message that a girl can do anything and girls are great.