Monday, January 27, 2014

5 Myths

The news web site has a series on "5 myths" in areas of health, science and society.  Not all of the articles in that series are to my taste, but I liked the recent one on 5 myths about girls, math and science.  Here is a summary and my take on solutions.  The data in the piece come from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Research on Gender in Science and Engineering (GSE) program. 

Myth 1:  The myth is that girls don't like science as much as boys do.  The reality is that girls and boys have equal science interests in early grade school, but already think of scientists as white males.  That perception begins to turn girls off to science in later grades.  My take:  role models are all important.  Things will improve as the number of visible women in science increases.

Myth 2:  The myth is that devoting extra classroom attention to girls' interest in science runs the risk of alienating the boys.  The reality is that the effect is bogus.  My take:  extra attention to individual interests and needs in school can benefit all.  Kids will perceive that the teacher is making a special effort and generally enjoy the class more.
Myth 3:  The myth is that science teachers are no longer biased toward the boys.  The reality is that there are persistent biases, often subtle, in the way science is taught, but that these biases are being recognized and slowly addressed.  My take:  it is important to show teachers where biases might lurk.  If teachers see examples of how unconscious bias might slip in, most of them will go out of their way to change their habits.

Myth 4:  The myth is that parents can’t do much to increase science interest in their girls.  The reality is that parents can have significant influence on how their children perceive science and other topics.  My take:  it is all about the early years.  The whole frame of reference in a child's mind comes from early experiences with parents and friends.

Myth 5:  The myth is that college science curricula that "weed out" weaker students may disproportionally discourage women.  The reality is that women tend to be more easily discouraged than men with a so-so grade in a science class.  The men tend to muster on.  The myth is true.  My take:  mentoring and counseling are key.  A young woman who hears about the struggles and eventual success of an older mentor can find the motivation to keep going.