Promoting Out-of-School-Time Science at the National Conference on Girls’ Education February 14, 2012Posted by Connie Chow in Executive Director Musings, Gender differences?, girls in science, Guest Blog, STEM pipeline efforts, women in science.
Tags: gender difference, girls, resilience, STEM
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I had the pleasure of organizing a workshop, “It Takes a Village: Building Sustainable Partnerships Between Scientists, Community Organizations and Girls,” with Dr. Linda Kekelis, executive director of Techbridge in Oakland, CA and Jameela Jafri, Senior Manager of Curriculum and Professional Learning Communities at Project Exploration in Chicago, IL. It was presented at the first National Conference on Girls’ Education in Washington DC, hosted by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.
There was much emphasis on building girls’ resilience, their “internal resume” as Rachel Simmons put it, and the importance of practice at critical junctures for the development of the brain “muscles” associated with socio-emotional and other cognitive functions, as preparation for leadership, and for life.
The approaches of our three organizations towards working with girls (and boys) from urban communities, and what we need to do as scientist-educators to meet them where they are were very similar and we each learned from the other groups. I particularly like Jameela’s framing of the collaboration between youth and adults as a community of practice. Since she was swift to produce an excellent summary, I have (with her permission) excerpted her observations below.
“The conference was an opportunity for organizations—particularly public charter and private schools—to share practices and raise issues that are relevant to educating and nurturing young women today. Engaging girls in STEM pursuits and building leadership skills were among the main themes of the conference.
Project Exploration’s presence at the conference was important as one of the voices for effective science education for girls from communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. I had the pleasure of co-presenting our model of engaging girls and scientists in meaningful science programming with Dr. Linda Kekelis, executive director of Techbridge in California, and Dr. Connie Chow, executive director of Science Club for Girls in Massachusetts. Our presentation, entitled “It Takes a Village: Building Sustainable Partnerships Between Scientists, Community Organizations and Girls,” was well attended by schools that are developing and growing science outreach programs for their female students and scientist mentors. Many of these schools were eager to identify effective strategies for recruiting and working with scientists who would be able to mentor and provide science activities for their girls.
- What do scientists need for a meaningful outreach experience with youth?
- In terms of access, what do youth—particularly minorities and girls—need when engaging with scientists?
I framed these two questions around the social learning theory of community of practice, where people come together around similar questions, ideas, goals, and practices. I discussed how “building a village” with adults and youth is really about developing a community of practice, where both parties are engaged in learning and doing science. This is particularly important, I noted, given that we need to consider normative adolescent development and the needs that young people have from a psychological and developmental point-of-view in order to form an identity in science.
The big take away from the conference was that gender-specific programming (both in and out-of-school) is important for the developmental needs of girls. (more…)
Separate but equal: What of single-sex education? January 28, 2011Posted by Connie Chow in Executive Director Musings, Gender differences?, girls in science, STEM pipeline efforts.
Tags: Education, gender difference, STEM, stereotype
Title IX advocates, civil rights activists and feminists are generally opposed to single-sex education in the public school system since “separate but equal” is seldom, if ever, achieved. Suzanne Beck, the (former) executive director of the National Coalition for Girls’ Schools countered this claim in an online “debate” last week with Galen Sherwin, staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, by providing evidence of impressive academic achievement of students in the Young Women’s Leadership Network of public schools.
Another objection to single sex schools is squarely laid on the misguided and biased notion that boys and girls learn differently, as Sherwin pointed out eloquently in the counter argument.
This debate is not new, of course. A feature article, Separate but equal: More schools are dividing classes by gender, appeared in the Washington Post last summer just ahead of the school year. For me, the article set off alarm bells about how gender stereotypes are perpetuated in the name of achieving equitable educational outcomes. The type of stereotypes that makes feminists mad. Fortunately it also includes research that shows how these stereotypical behaviors stem from initially minute differences that gets amplified by adults’ stereotyped feedback to children.
For me, the WaPo article set off alarm bells about how gender stereotypes are perpetuated in the name of achieving equitable educational outcomes. The type of stereotypes that makes feminists mad.
So why do we provide single-sex learning environments at Science Club for Girls, you ask? Not because we believe that girls and boys learn differently, as defined by their sex chromosomes (or phenotype, which is typically how they would get sorted). But primarily because girls typically don’t receive the encouragement and affirmation they need to become confident in science, technology, math and engineering in the “world out there”.
The underlying philosophy of Science Club for Girls’ program model is to create environments where girls, no matter the color of their skin, curliness of their hair, the primary language they speak in their home, the occupation or educational level of their guardians, feel safe to explore, to fail, and to try again. We create a space for girls to try on the roles of scientists and engineers; where the message is, “Of course you can!” We encourage them to debate, to be creative, to get messy and to use their brains. In other words, they can adopt behavior and identities that are typically denied them in a co-ed setting.
Why do girls need such an environment?
The AAUW report, Why so Few, Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, suggests that in spite of all we know and do to steer a girl or woman into STEM fields, societal attitudes have had, continues to have, a disproportionately negative influence on their choices and persistence.
As the research study in the WaPo article and many others suggest, the prevailing environment, i.e. visual messages, verbal cues, body language from peers, parents, teachers and society–delivered subtly and not so subtly, directly or indirectly–shapes the dispositions, behaviours and domain knowledge that influence boys’ and girls’ sense of competency and eventual success. And of course these messages of bias are not confined to gender.
So it is the business of adults and society to always be vigilant around stereotypes instead of embracing them, which many proponents of single-sex schools or classrooms tend to do. (If you think you’re above the fray, try this test to reveal biases that you might not even know you have).
The WaPo article ends a scene from a math class in the girls’ room. Guided by their teacher, Ms. Pointer, a veteran with nine years of experience, figurative light bulbs were turned on in rapid succession. Ms. Pointer’s girls outperforms the boys in the same grade. Ms. Pointer knows how to teach girls because she pats them on their head and coos at them. Right?
The lesson I take from this is not that Ms. Pointer is a good teacher of girls. She’s just a good teacher. Period.
As she herself said, the techniques that she uses around classroom management and setting high expectations work just as well for the male students she’s taught before. Her success lies in her astuteness in picking up cues, listening and responding to students as individuals.
Remember, discrimination is treating everyone the same way when you should treat them differently.
So let’s stop teaching teachers to pigeonhole unique human beings into narrow categories of boy or girl, and let us pay attention to our unexamined assumptions or ideologies that limit children’s learning and prevent them from reaching their full potential.
Let’s create high expectations about our responsibility to all our children and work hard to reform our public education system, direct the necessary professional development and resources, including gender-sensitive training, to teachers, and make sure students receive the support they need to achieve equitable outcomes. And let us dismantle the system of biased beliefs that shackle girls and boys, women and men.
In the mean time, let’s create as many differentiated instructional spaces, literal and figurative, as we can, whether they are in school or out-of-school, so each child can develop the confidence, skills and social network to bravely navigate the imperfect world out there.
Hardwired difference vs brain plasticity October 16, 2009Posted by Connie Chow in Gender differences?.
Tags: gender difference
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From the Public Education Network
The narrow gap between ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ brains
“In a new book on gender and the brain that The Washington Post calls “masterful,” author Lise Eliot cites a study in which mothers watched their 11-month-olds crawl down a carpeted slope. The moms pushed a button to change the slope’s angle based on what they thought their children could handle, and the babies were afterward tested to see how steep a slope they could actually navigate. Though girls and boys were equally skilled at crawling and risk-taking, the mothers of the girls — unlike those of the boys — significantly underestimated their daughters’ ability. “Sex differences in the brain are sexy,” Eliot writes, so we tend to notice them everywhere, “but there’s enormous danger” in our exaggeration. It leads us to see gender at an early age and in terms of what we expect to see, and to assume that sex differences are innate and immutable. We forget that the differences within each sex are usually greater than the gaps between the two. Eliot debunks the recent exaggeration of brain-based sex differences in what the reviewer calls a “publishing flurry” from “credentialed authors who should know better.” Eliot also explains what the research on brain-based sex difference actually shows, and offers suggestions about how we can erase the small gaps for children instead of turning them into larger ones”.
Read the entire review. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/09/AR2009100902615.html