Improving girls’ achievement in science

iStock_000006354717XSmallPrevious research suggests that boys are viewed as having more science ability than girls. In classrooms, boys are asked more open-ended, analytical questions, while girls are asked more factual, procedural questions. National test results show that girls’ science achievement drops off markedly in later grades. But, Bridget Dalton, Education Development Center, Harvard University, reports that young girls perform as well as boys when science is taught using hands-on methods of instruction.

In Dalton’s study, one hundred seventy-one students were taught a six-week unit of electricity by regular classroom teachers who received one day of training followed by two after-school coaching sessions. Further support was provided by researchers who helped in classrooms once a week. In same-gender pairs, students conducted experiments after teachers introduced each day’s lesson. At the end of the class period, students gather together to share results. Pairing by gender appeared to be beneficial to girls.

In this study, girls were as vocal and knowledgeable as boys in whole-class discussions. In post-testing, girls performed as well as boys on the most difficult concepts and both sexes showed a wide range of mastery. Both boys and girls scored better on performance assessments than on questionnaires. Dalton concludes that when girls are given the same chances as boys to manipulate lab materials and formulate ideas, girls achieve as much. Unfortunately, Dalton says, there is an insufficient amount of hands-on science instruction at the elementary level.

This gender study is part of a larger research project investigating how hands-on science can be designed so that all children can succeed, including those with learning disabilities. Further results will be published later this year in the International Journal of Educational Research.

“Hands-On Science Study Shows Promise For Girls” Achievement”, Report on Education Research, June 23, 1993. pp. 1-2.

Published in ERN September/October 1993, Volume 6, Number 4.

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