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Young women and science: Are there any aspects of science classes that discourage some young women from wanting to take more science?

11 December 1991


This country is having trouble keeping female students in science classes as they progress through school. Because of this, we do not have enough young women available for careers in science. What is happening in high school science classes that might discourage young women from taking other science classes? In this study I observed a general biology class and a general chemistry class, in a suburban high school, to try to identify some of the problems that young women face. I also interviewed a few female students from each class to find out what they thought about their science classes. I discovered several factors that may discourage female students from taking more science classes. The chemistry class consisted of hand picked, high achieving, junior high students. This class showed fewer gender problems. In this classroom I did observe male students receiving more praise than female students. The female students in chemistry also showed lack of confidence when presenting some of their ideas. The biology class, with average students, had more gender problems. Some of these were due to the teacher's laissez faire discipline style. In this class I saw female students ignored, criticized, lost, and denied equal interaction time with the teacher. 3 When I interviewed female students from these classes, I found that they did not see the relevance of the science classes they were taking. Even when I asked them if science would play a part in their future, they could not see any connections. If young women do not understand how science applies to the many jobs and careers available, then we will never have enough women in the field of science. This study has revealed a new line of investigations that need to be undertaken. We need more information on what female students need from school to increase their understanding and perceptions of science.


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