Ed Yong of the always fascinating, informative, and well-written Not Exactly Rocket Science blog has a doozy of a write-up of a recent Science paper (see link below). I don’t want to spoil it, but to summarize… there is an inaccurate stereotype that females and males have different skill levels in the sciences (the “hard” physical sciences, in particular). This is crap and I am happy to scream it from the rooftop whenever invited. However, data has shown that females perform lower overall in these courses than their male counterparts. If it’s not innate ability, what is it? Most in education (my generation especially) would agree, I think, that it’s due to some other factor(s). Gender bias in education, self-fulfilling prophecies, conflicting desires and goals, poor mentorship/advising, etc.
Enter the current study. The authors showed that by having students write twice, early in the semester, on values and why they matter to them personally can greatly reduce this gender gap. In an introductory physics course. What’s the connection? From Yong’s review it’s not clear but the trick is to break the negative stereotype early and replace it with a positive cycle.
I am thinking of trying this in my courses. And you know I’m getting the positive cycle up and running with my daughter. The gap has been closed in regard to the gender breakdown of students enrolled in colleges… this new study will only help in our goal of closing it across the board.