07 SES 03 B, Women: Identity and Engagement
Falling rolls in post-compulsory science courses and the expressed need for greater participation and uptake of these sorts of courses are echoed across the Western World (Lyons; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012, in the US). Females are under represented in the highest levels of science careers, especially in the physical sciences; they appear to have lower levels of interest in science and after school, have higher rates of attrition from science courses than males. Such gender disparity in the workplace raises a number of questions such as: are females biologically not ‘fit for purpose’ with respect to a career in science? Are females’ attitudes towards science (especially physical sciences) different from males? Are there cultural forces at play that favour males or at least discriminate against females in the science work place? Are lifestyle choices (most frequently the decision to have and care for children) responsible for the dearth of women in high status positions in academia? Can we support larger numbers of young women to ‘imagine’ themselves as scientists where ‘science aspirations sit in an uneasy tension with femininity’ (Archer et al., 2012b, p. 983)?
PISA data suggest that females and males are more similar than different, supporting the contention of Hyde and Linn (2006) that the emphasis on gender differences is unproductive, where statistical differences (but small effect size, 0.12) were reported in performance on science tests of male and female fourth-grade and twelfth grade students. Large effect sizes (0.5) were reported in activity level and aggression, which may persist in the popular imagination as gender differences and account for possible explanations of lower achievement in science by females. The picture seems is more complex (Hyde and Linn, 2006).
This study focuses on high achieving female students of school science to better understand the:
- Influences with respect to science, especially physics.
- students’ views of what influences them and their decision making.
However, school science subject preferences and post-school engagement and participation in science subjects and future career choice, which both seem to reflect gender bias, perhaps depend on other factors not examined by PISA. (Cerinsek, Hribar, Glodez, & Dolinsek, 2012; Handelsman et al., 2005; Hazari, Sonnert, Sadler, & Shanahan, 2010; Miyake et al., 2010).
Despite emphasis on gender-inclusive science over the past three decades and evidence that there is little difference in the abilities of males and females in doing science, there is an underrepresentation of women in physical science courses and careers. Data from Western Australia show that, historically, more than twice the number of males are in Year 12 (the final year of schooling) Physics classes compared with females, whereas there are equal numbers of males and females in chemistry classes in Year 12. The purpose of this study is to examine the factors that influence girls’ engagement with science. Specifically there are two aims of this study. First, the study aims to better understand factors underpinning engagement of high-achieving girls in high school physics classes in Western Australia. Secondly, the research aims to interrogate a model that out-of-school factors influence student engagement in science (McConney et al., 2011; Woods-McConney et al., 2012). In order to address these aims the study addresses these research questions:
1. What determinants of engagement in science are identified by high achieving girls in Physics classes?
2. How do the determinants of engagement in science identified by high achieving girls in Physics classes align with a model of engagement derived from the secondary analysis of PISA data?
Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2012a). Science Aspirations, Capital, and Family Habitus: How Families Shape Children’s Engagement and Identification With Science. American Educational Research Journal, 49(5), 881-908. Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2012b). “Balancing acts'': Elementary school girls' negotiations of femininity, achievement, and science. Science Education, 96(6), 967-989. Cerinsek, G., Hribar, T., Glodez, N., & Dolinsek, S. (2012). Which are my Future Career Priorities and What Influenced my Choice of Studying Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics? Some Insights on Educational Choice - Case of Slovenia. International Journal of Science Education, 1-27. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2012.681813 Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2007). Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge. Hazari, Z., Sonnert, G., Sadler, P. M., & Shanahan, M.-C. (2010). Connecting high school physics experiences, outcome expectations, physics identity, and physics career choice: A gender study. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(8), 978-1003. Hyde, J. S. & Linn, M. C. (2006). Gender similarities in mathematics and science. Science, 314, 599-600. Lyons, T. (2006). The Puzzle of Falling Enrolments in Physics and Chemistry Courses: Putting Some Pieces Together. Research in Science Education, 36(3), 285-311. McConney, A., Oliver, M., Woods-McConney, A., & Schibeci, R.. (2011). Bridging the Gap? A Comparative, Retrospective Analysis of Science Literacy and Interest in Science for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australian Students. International Journal of Science Education, 33(14), 2017-2035. Miyake, A., Kost-Smith, L. E., Finkelstein, N. D., Pollock, S. J., Cohen, G. L., & Ito, T. A. (2010). Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation. Science, 330(6008), 1234-1237. Woods-McConney, A., Oliver, M.C., McConney, A., Maor, D., & Schibeci, R. (2013). Science Engagement and Literacy: A Retrospective Analysis for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Students in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. Research in Science Education, 43(1), 233-252.
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