Greenberg, E. I. (2006). Identifying Gender Gaps in Learning Growth in Physics. Instructional Technology Monographs 3 (2). Retrieved <insert date>, from http://itm.coe.uga.edu/archives/fall2005/egreenberg.htm.

 

Identifying Gender Gaps in Learning Growth in Physics

by

Ethan I. Greenberg
University of Georgia

 

Abstract

This study was designed to investigate the gender gap in learning growth or in the perception of learning among my own physics students. Physics is an important building block for students who wish to pursue future careers in math, engineering, and the physical sciences. My assumption is that a significant and recurring gap in achievement between men and women would indicate failure to provide an equitable educational experience. While the research suggests that a gender gap exists in both the enrollment of women in physics courses and their performance once enrolled this study will focused on the achievement of those students already enrolled in my classes and looked for possible causes if a gap is found.

The study employed a mix-methods approach and used pre and post tests, questionnaires, teacher observations, and attitude scales to answer the research questions. The results indicated that there is no significant difference between the scores of male and female students in this study. These finding may suggest that the varied instructional techniques and technologies employed in teaching are providing all students opportunities to succeed.

 

 

Literature Review Methods Results and Discussion Conclusions References

 

Introduction

Is it possible in the 21 st century that schools still fail to provide all of their students with equitable learning experiences? Having taught physics in two different school systems, one where it is a required course and one where it is an elective course, an aspect of the classes that has caught my attention is the ratio of male to female students in the classroom. In one county where I taught previously, where physics is a required course, the balance of male to female students in any particular class was roughly half and half. In the county where I am presently employed, physics is an elective course there is a larger percentage of male students to their female counterpart enrolled. While the under enrollment of female student in physics course is an important equity issue, as a classroom teacher it is an issue beyond my control. I do have control of my own classroom and the instructional practices. I want to ensure that all of my students, male and female, are given equal opportunity to learn and achieve.

My own experience as a physics teacher for several years has led me to wonder whether or not the gender gaps and inequity suggested and documented in the literature exists in my own classroom. These experiences include informal observations of my students, test scores, and conversations with students, colleagues, and parents. Physics content is difficult; however, I do not subscribe to the school of thought that writes off unequal performance by female students as a result of their gender. I believe that if provided with the proper instruction that female students should be able to perform at the same levels as their male counterparts. I believe that while it may require a different approach male and female students can reach the same level of achievement in the end.

It is the responsibility of an educator to ensure male and female students are provided with the opportunities they need to succeed. This may mean varying instructional practices for male and female students. If there is a gender gap in my own classes as determine by a pre-test post-test measured learning growth and also comments and feedback provided by students, I have an obligation to identify the contributing factors and attempts to ameliorate them.

While current research into gender gaps in physics achievement provides important information about the existence of such inequity, these studies provide the classroom teacher with little more than generalities. As a physics teacher, I need to know if these same general trends seen in physics education throughout the world are also present in my classroom. If a gap does exist in my own classes I can try to identify its origin and improve the issues for future students.

First and foremost, this research topic for me as a concerned physics teacher is not a topic that had ever been addressed in my training as an educator. The findings of this research have the immediate potential to enable me to reevaluate my instructional methods and techniques. This may also result in greater learning opportunities for all of my students as best teaching practices are usually best for all students. On a larger scale, issues of gender equality in learning are relevant for all educators striving to provide their students with the best learning experience they can offer. Physics teachers, science teachers, and all teachers who are concerned about equity in their classroom should evaluate their teaching practices to ensure that all of their students are being provided with optimal learning conditions.

I employ various instructional methods and materials such as lecture, inquiry based labs, problem solving sessions, computer simulations, discussions, video, web based assignments, and student presentations. Given the varied nature of the methods I implement I believe that there is something for everyone, which accommodate as many learning styles as possible. There is also redundancy between many of these activities which is also done purposely to allow students to interact with the content in as many ways as possible.

The purpose of this action research is to discover if gender differences in the ability to learn physics content exists in my own physics students. If the ability to learn physics content in my classroom appears to less for a certain gender than I must use the data collected to try and identify the root cause or causes and work to improve upon them.

 

 

Literature Review

Gender equality in society and education has made huge strides over the last century. Women attend colleges and universities in equal or greater numbers than their male counterparts and are able to gain employment in all sectors of the work force. However, there remains a disparity in the representation of women in disciplines for which the qualifications include science related credentials, other than medical careers (Reid & Skryabina, 2003). Women continue to be underrepresented in mathematics, engineering, and the physical sciences, making up only 16% of those profitable professions, while women in general make up 45% of the work force (Tai & Sadler, 2001). Science related careers are more important that ever in our modern society that is rooted in information and technology. Girls routinely enroll in advanced science courses in lower numbers than their male counterparts; consequently, limiting their future job prospects in science related fields (Zohar & Sela, 2003).

This trend of under enrollment is not limited to the United States and can be seen in educational settings in countries around the world from Israel to Scotland . Efforts have been made to investigate this problem in various ways. The factors leading up to the decision to enroll in advanced science courses, physics in particular, have been examined along with the influences affecting the performance of girls once they are enrolled. The aspects contributing to the enrollment and performance of girls in physics have been examined more closely than other content areas in the literature, due to a particularly noticeable gender gap, or disparity in achievement, between boys and girls. While many biological differences exist between the genders, these differences have been dismissed by researchers as a reason for the discrepancy (Klein, 2004; Tai & Sadler, 2001).

Motivation, self efficacy, peer pressure, societal and gender norms, family attitudes, guidance from educational professionals, prior experience, and requirements from high schools, colleges, and universities are all factors that have been investigated by researchers in an effort to explain the disparity in enrollment. Issues that have been examined in an effort to explain performance of girls in physics include attitudes of teachers and students, teaching and learning styles, classroom culture, and prior experiences. While this issue is complex and the dynamics that influence enrollment and performance are complicated, several factors can be addressed immediately by school and educational professionals, including teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors. Rather than be overwhelmed by a daunting task, educators must start addressing the issues that they do have some control over, and hope that societal and family factors will follow by example. A vast number of the issues currently influencing our society and economy are affected by and rooted in science and its applications. As a result, it is imperative that girls are provided an equitable path to pursue educations and careers in related scientific fields.

The gender gap is seen in two parts of education that require attention. Enrollment and performance in physics courses reveal a degree of inequity that requires attention. There are two different types of influences on enrollment and performance. These influences can be divided into factors that can be addressed in the educational system at all levels, primarily by teachers, administrators, and those who provide guidance. These include school experiences in science classes, course requirements for high school and college, guidance, course recommendations, teaching styles, and teaching attitudes. The other influences include motivation, gender norms, family culture, self efficacy, peer group and the learning styles and attitudes of the students. These factors are much more difficult to control or adjust from an educational perspective. That is not to say that they are not serious issues that do require attention in order to bring about a serious and lasting change to the way that girls and all students are educated and the best practices by which to do so. Rather, these factors are cultural and more personal in nature and, consequently, more difficult to address and change in an educational setting.

This review is the result of a desire to increase enrollment in physics courses from female students and to ensure that those female students who do enroll are given the opportunity and provided with the best instructional practices to ensure equity and promote success in a positive learning environment. The literature can be divided into two main categories. Those studies that look at enrollment factors and those that look at performance factors. As a classroom teacher with a desire to have an impact on student achievement, I believe that methods to increase performance are most relevant. For physics teachers in particular the following statement should be of the most concern, “The largest gender differences in achievements are consistently found in physics” (Zohar & Sela, 2003 p.246).

The purpose of this literature review is to evaluate current thought on gender disparities in enrollment and performance in physics courses in order to help identify them in my own classes if they exists and work to close the gap if one is found . Furthermore, the review attempted to determine what factors a classroom teacher may be able to control and attempt to modify with the goal of increasing the academic performance of female students, in order to determine the variables for the study. I believe that whatever gaps in achievement do exist are not biological and that, under optimal and comparable circumstances, male and female students perform academically at equal levels. The purpose of this study is to determine if there are differences in achievement between the male and female students in an advanced physics course and to try to identify possible causes if a significant difference in achievement is found.

Enrollment

In most schools in most countries physics is an elective course. When female students choose not to enroll in such a course they begin to limit their future educational and career choices. Kessels (2005) suggests that enrolment in advance science courses, such as physics and advanced physics courses may be incompatible with the psychological development of the identity of young adults. It is not socially acceptable in many peer groups to be smart and such behavior may result in ostracism from the group. The formation of self-image is strongly influenced in early childhood and adolescence. Gender stereotypes present in many societies and families are incompatible with women pursuing careers in the physical sciences, which are much more frequently associated as being masculine professions (DeBacker & Nelson, 2000). Attitudes and achievement in science for boys and girls are very similar in elementary school and then begin to diverge in middle and high school, which can be attributed to both educational and societal factors (Bacharach, Baumeister, & Furr, 2003).

Educationally, the decline in girls' attitudes towards science may be attributed to early experiences with science, science curriculum, and teachers (Greenfield, 1997; Zohar & Bronshtien, 2005). Early positive experiences in science classrooms have a lasting impact on girls and manifest themselves in eagerness and capability to get involved ( Greenfield , 1997). A student's self-efficacy can be affected through positive classroom experiences. Highly qualified teachers, who actively engage all students equally, are crucial to fostering a positive attitude towards science at a young and formative age in all students. While studies indicate that girls recognize science as being important and valuable in numbers comparable to boys, those same girls believe they have a lesser ability than their male counterparts (DeBacker & Nelson, 2000).

Course requirements and recommendations also play a role in the enrollment of female students in physics courses. Many girls, who are qualified to enroll in a physics course, are turned away and placed on another track (Zohar & Bronshtien, 2005). “Girls were more likely than their male counterparts to take both biology and chemistry” (Zohar & Sela, 2003, p246.). Common practices include stressing difficulty rather than the rewards of taking such a course. Teachers also suggest other courses where they inform girls they will be able to achieve higher grades (Zohar & Bronshtien, 2005). “Girls with average grades are usually not encouraged to study physics, while boys with similar achievement get different messages” (Zohar & Bronshtien, 2005, p63.).

Performance

A wide variety of factors have been studied in order to determine their effect on the performance of female students in physics course. These include, but are not limited to, attitudes towards learning, perceived societal gender roles, motivation, self efficacy, instructor's gender, classroom learning environment, and teaching styles. Working under the assumption that male and female students should be able to achieve at comparable levels, all else being equal, these factors and all other possibilities must be considered as possible culprits for the achievement gap.

In their study of 242 high school students enrolled in biology, chemistry, and physics, DeBacker & Nelson (2000) found that of the 128 boys and 113 girls surveyed, “girls reported lower perceived ability than boys did regardless of achievement level and science class” (p. 251). In addition to their deflated feelings regarding their abilities, when poled, girls also responded to enjoying physics less than their male counterpart (Zohar & Sela, 2003). Reid and Skryabina (2003) came to similar conclusions in their analysis of more than 800 students. “Boys show more positive attitudes towards science than girls…But is it really a problem of girls?” (p. 510.) These negative feelings about courses and their own ability affect female students' motivation and self-efficacy. Instructional practices, like cooperative learning or problem-based learning, may provide educators a way to address these issues and bring about a positive change.

Similar suggestions and analysis can be found with Greenfield (1997), who suggests that such “gender-equitable instructional strategies” need to take place in school in science classes at all levels. “Hands on laboratory work combined with carefully structured collaborative learning can be particularly effective at the elementary levels to help ensure that girls are as active in science labs as boys, and perhaps will be more likely to remain that way through subsequent classes” (p. 272). When girls are given an opportunity to form a place for themselves in the science classroom early on, their views of themselves and science have a better chance of developing as the students mature ( Greenfield , 1997).

While early experience influences girls' self-efficacy, experiences in current physics courses also have an impact. These factors seem to fall into three main categories: classroom, content, and teacher. What content is being taught and how the material is being presented seems to have a larger impact on female students than male students (Tai & Sadler, 2001; Zohar & Bronshtien 2005; Zohar & Sela, 2003).

Zohar and Sela (2003) found in the research in mathematics and physics that, “In a written questionnaire 91% of girls regarded understanding as the most important aspect of learning mathematics, compared with 65% of the boys…Boys tended to be more satisfied than girls with simply attaining the correct answers, rather than understanding” (p. 248).

The need for girls to reach a deeper understanding of physical concepts and to believe they only understand when they can place the ideas into a wider scope and make connections and relationships was also documented by Zohar and Bronshtein (2005). This is not the way that most traditional introductory physics classes are taught. “Teaching physics with more concentration on deep and narrow approaches to the subject matter appear to be profoundly more beneficial than concentrating on broad and shallow approaches…However, the tenet among many practicing high school physics teachers has remained, ‘Exposure, Exposure, Exposure'” (Tai & Sadler, 2001, p.1035). Current teaching practices appear incongruent with the learning styles and needs of female students.

Further evidence suggests that a failure to grasp a concept effects girls' outlook more than boys and that girls only feel they understand something when they can apply and see how the information applies to a larger setting (Zohar & Sela, 2003). In their research Zohar and Sela also found that 75% of girls thought that their class was too competitive as opposed to 27.8% of boys. Competition was welcomed and enjoyed by most of the male students while it bothered many of the female students. One female student in the study had this to say, “That's another reason why girls don't take physics. I would have preferred to take chemistry because they [i.e. students in chemistry class] are not as competitive…it's pretty disgusting” (p. 258). Another female student from the study commented that, “It's much easier for the boys to get along in the physics class. It's simply that there is always this kind of competition: who solved the problem, who got it right. It's a bit difficult. I think for girls it's more…difficult sometimes…It suits them a little better, they get along better in class” (Zohar & Sela, 2003, p.258). This issue of competition and its psychological impact on female students was also noted by Zohar and Bronshtien (2005), who suggest that small group discussions, which are preferred by girls, facilitate a greater comprehension of concepts and further clarification of those concepts.

The competitive nature of the traditional classroom where, “rote learning and algorithmic problem solving” (Zohar & Sela, 2003, p.259) dominate is not appealing to girls who, more so than their male counterparts, strive to form a deeper understanding of content and the ability to apply their newly acquired knowledge. “Clearly, their pleasure in learning physics is related to their ability to understand” (Zohar & Sela, 2003, p.259). Reid and Skryabina (2003) found similar preferences in their study where girls responded that they had more interest in physics when they were able to apply to real life situations in the world around them.

Labuddle and Herzog (2000) found that teaching strategies that had the most success in raising the achievement of girls were addressing preconceived notions and relating physics to every day phenomenon and thus making it relevant, real, and applicable to students. However, they go on to say that, “The applied strategies improve not only the girls' but also the boys' achievement in and attitudes toward physics” (Labuddle & Herzog, 2000, p.155.). Teaching strategies and the classroom environment can be control by the instructor. Consequently, the teacher has a great deal of control of factors that directly impact the motivation and self-efficacy of girls enrolled in physics courses.

Teachers may ultimately be responsible for the achievement gap in physics courses, rather than the students or the course itself. The manner in which information is presented and the culture of the class have been established as factors to which girls and boys respond differently. Why the responses are different is not the concern of this review. The fact that there are differences and its impact on the academic achievement of female students is of concern. In an attempt to determine whether the gap is a result of biological factors or sociological factors, polls and surveys conducted with educators yielded some interesting results. “Studies suggest that teacher's knowledge and beliefs in this area may be unsatisfactory for the purpose of gender-fair physics teaching because teachers tend to underestimate the problem and do not tend to think it needs special treatment and care” (Zohar & Boaz, 2005, p.65.). In their survey the opinion of most teachers was that science professions are more fitting for boys than girls and those factors beyond their control are responsible for any gender gap (Zohar & Boaz, 2005)

The results from the research done by Zohar and Boaz (2005) are alarming. When teachers were asked questions gauging whether or not they were aware of a gap 32% said gender was not an issue, 20% identify that a gap existed but underestimated its magnitude. A majority of teachers were either ignorant of the gap or underestimated its actual influence (Zohar & Boaz, 2005). Perhaps even more alarming was the 64% of teachers who did not identify the gap as an issue that required any remedy (Zohar & Boaz, 2005). Interestingly, even teachers, who did not believe there was a gap, attempted to explain the gap in terms of self-efficacy and differences between female interests and traditional physics curricula (Zohar & Boaz, 2005). In his research Klein (2004) suggests that the gender of the teacher may play a role in academic achievement. “The fact that the variance is largely due to the gender of the teachers, not pupils, suggests that, left to their own devices, girls and boys would reach similar achievement levels, and that the gaps that presently exist have extrinsic causes” (p. 189.). Consequently, it would appear that teachers, who recognize a gap does exist in achievement and are willing to admit that they may share in the responsibility for the gap, have the ability to remedy the situation through modifications in their instructional practices and classroom management.

Summary

The purpose of this literature review was to provide information about the gender disparity in science, and physics in particular, with respect to courses being taken and performance in those courses. The literature review details various aspects of the problem that have been researched and address to this point. When teachers recognize and acknowledge the disparity the research suggests, using a different approach to presenting material, making connections between that content and society, and changing the classroom culture could lead to improved achievement for both male and female students. Strategies used to increased girls' achievement help their male counterparts as well (Labudde & Herzog, 2000).

In the last 100 years women have made leaps and bounds in terms of equality and equal representation throughout society. Still, there remains a gap in the representation of women in physical science and engineering careers. That disparity can be traced back to physical science class from elementary school through the university level. Girls are underrepresented in those classes and perform lower than their male counterparts when they are enrolled. Self-efficacy and motivation appear to play a role in the performance gap and are directly related to the instructor and the manner in which that person conducts their class, instructional styles, and methodologies. The instructional needs of female students in traditional physics courses are not being met.

Rote memorization and plugging numbers into formulas neither engage most girls nor provide them with the deeper understanding and relationships they desire. Teaching practices that address these issues are really best practices that should be used with all students and will benefit both girls and their male counterparts. These types of necessary pedagogical changes will only take place when teachers acknowledge there is a gender gap in achievement and that they can and must do something to remedy the situation.

 

 

Methods

I investigated a class of advanced physics students for this study. The high school is a predominately Caucasian school and physics classes typically conform to those demographics. The class is composed of junior and senior students. Those returning to the school have had one of two possible backgrounds in science. The seniors will have taken physical science, biology, and chemistry while the juniors have taken biology and chemistry. In the past, about half of those students have tested into gifted program. As a gifted certified teacher the school typically keeps my classes below twenty-one students. The class is made up of 22 students, 13 males and 9 female, that meet for ninety minutes a day for eighteen weeks.

The classroom is a lab room with two large lab tables along with tables and desks to provide seating for all students. The room is equipped with an interactive white board, television, VCR, DVD player, and four desk top computers with internet access. To accommodate the number of students in the class trips will be made weekly to the computer lab to provide students access and time to view and interact with various computer simulations. There are also 12 x 10 white boards and 24 x 12 white boards for student presentations and problem solving.

The study was conducted over the course of a unit that covered energy and momentum. Instructional methods used include lecture, inquiry labs, problem solving sessions, demonstrations, computer simulations, web based assignments, discussions, student presentations, and videos. When students work in groups they will work in homogenous and heterogeneous based on gender. They varied throughout the unit so that every student will have the opportunity to work in both types of groups.

Throughout the study, I collected information regarding learning growth as well as information regarding predispositions, motivation, and attitudes. I hope to answer the following questions:

•  Is there a gender gap in learning growth and mastery?

•  What are learning growth and overall mastery for both female students and male students?

•  How do girls and boys perceive their performance?

•  Does interest in the subject matter effect learning outcomes?

•  How do students' perceptions of physics as an important topic to study effect their performance?

•  How does technology assist students in learning physics?

 

•  What technologies to students believe are the most helpful in learning physics content?

•  What technologies do students believe are unhelpful or even counterproductive?

•  Does technology enable student to make relevant connections to the importance of physics in society?

 

 

 

Data Collection Process

Consent forms were distributed to all students to bring home prior to the study. The pre test and first questionnaire were administered prior to the presentation of content. Students were coded all forms with their own unique student identification number. This helped to ensure students' identities remain as anonymous as possible while the data was being collected and during the analysis process.

This study made use of two questionnaires and the use of pre and post-test results. The pre-test and post test included ten multiple choice questions relating to subject matter being taught. The pre unit questionnaire will consist of a variety of questions. The questionnaire contained questions pertaining to demographic information and previous education. These questions determined gender, age, previous math and science classes taken and grades in those classes; PSAT and SAT score (if applicable). Questions were asked about the students' parents and their current employment, interests, and educational background.

The remainder of the questionnaire asked questions about the student's interests, knowledge, and motivation to take physics. These questions took the form of Likert scaled survey questions, and open ended free response questions. There will also be questions in this section of the questionnaire for students to express and elaborate on their learning styles and preferred methods of instruction. Lastly, there will be questions asking students about their own perceptions as they relate to gender and ability in physics.

The pre and post-test contained 10 multiple choice questions which covered material from the third unit over energy and momentum in the course. The pre and post-test results were analyzed to determine learning growth and mastery of content. A second questionnaire will be given after the post test that will ask students questions about their experiences during the previous unit. It used checklists; Likert scaled questions, and open ended questions. The pre and post test questions can be seen in appendix A and the questionnaire questions used in the questionnaire can be seen in appendix B.

The second questionnaire asked questions about the unit of physics the students had just studied and the effectiveness of instructional techniques used throughout that unit. These questions included what technology students thought was helpful and detrimental in their learning, what instructional methods were the most and least effective, and how their actual learning growth and mastery relate to their perceived level of ability and accomplishment. Students were asked questions about the content they believed was the easiest and most difficult to master and to postulate reasons why they think they were successful with some material and not so with other.

Data Analysis

The data analysis had several aspects. First, the scores of the pre and post-test were compared to determine the level of learning growth. The post-test score were used to determine overall level of mastery. This data was then compared to the data collected through the questionnaires. I tried to see if students who have a greater interest in physics perform better. I also tried to see if there were any relationships between achievement, motivation, and self efficacy. Finally, the questionnaires provided data regarding instructional methods that students find most effective. This information was compared with the gender of the subject as well as their level of achievement.

Limitation of the study

As with any study this one has limitations. This is a study of a small group of physics student who are enrolled in physics as a choice. As a result, the findings of this study may not be generalized beyond my classroom. I am biased in my belief that male and female student should be able to attain the same levels of mastery when provided with the necessary learning opportunities. Having taught physics for several years in two school systems and at various levels I believe I have developed practices and use technology that enable all of my students to succeed.

 

 

Results and Discussion

Quantitative Results

 

Thirteen male students and nine female students took a pre and post test as part of a unit of study over topics related to energy and momentum in an advanced high school physics course. The comparison of scores between the female and male pretest, the female and male post test, and the increase in the female scores compared to the increase in male scores revealed no significant difference between the female group and the male group. The female pre test had had a mean of 2.66 with a standard deviation of 0.87. The male pre test had a mean of 3.54 and a standard deviation of 2.03. A t value of 0.138 and p-value of 0.19, p > 0.05, indicates no significant difference between the scores.

The comparison of the scores between the female and male post test also indicates no significant difference. The female post test had a mean of 5.44 with a standard deviation of 1.13. The male post test had a mean of 5.54 with a standard deviation of 1.66. A t-value of 0.158 and a p-value of 0.88, p > 0.05, indicate no significant difference between scores.

The comparison of the difference between male post test scores and pre test scores to that of the female post test and pre test scores also indicated no significant difference. The male scores had a mean increase of 2.00 with a standard deviation of 1.22. The female score had a mean increase of 2.78 with a standard deviation of 1.48. A t-value of -1.29 and a p-value of 0.21 indicates no significant difference in achievement.

Table 1. Mean Scores and Standard Deviation for Pretest, Posttest, and Improvement.

 

Pretest

Posttest

Improvements

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Mean

2.67

3.54

5.44

5.54

2.78

2.00

Std. Deviation

0.87

2.03

1.33

1.66

1.48

1.22

 

Qualitative Results

When asked to rank their interest in the subject matter of physics on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 indicating the largest interest male students responded with a mean of 8 with standard deviation of 1.47. The female students responded with a mean of 6.33 with a standard deviation of 1.80. A p-value of 0.037, p < 0.05, indicating that there is a significant difference in how the students report their own interest in the course. According to their own reporting of their interest the male students claim to be more interest in the content and subject matter than the female students.

When asked to rank their ability to achieve and master physics content on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 indicating the largest achievement male students responded with a mean of 8.38 with standard deviation of 0.96. The female students responded with a mean of 8.32 with a standard deviation of 1.31. A t-test gives a p-value of 0.77, p > 0.05, indicating that there is no significant difference in how the students report their ability to achieve and master physics content. There is no significant difference between how the male students in the class and the female students in the class see their own abilities to do well in physics.

Students completed questionnaires that contained several Likert scaled questions, checklists and open ended questions. Responses to the 8 – point Likert scaled questions regarding most effective instructional technologies have been compiled for the male and female sub groups. The number of students responding and their percentage of their subgroup are listed in appendices

Student Comments

Students identified factors that would cause them to be less successful as having bad study habits, not spending enough time studying, difficult course loads, weak math ability, and extra-curricular activities. When asked about study habits the number of hours a week students report spend on physics related work ranged from thirty minutes a week to fourteen hours a week. The average was only four hours a week. Fifteen out of the twenty two students report spending four hours or less on homework every week. The range of time spent on homework per week for male was from half and hour per week to nine hours a week while the range for the females was from two hours a week to fifteen hour a week. The average for the males was three hours a week while for the females it was about five hours and twenty minutes a week.

Student comments regarding instructional methods and their ranking of the various methods currently being employed in the classroom reveal nothing conclusive; however, many student comment were focused on more passive activities where the teacher gives notes or explains, “specific quiz and test questions in advance.” Other students suggested that the teacher should provide them with note in advance of class. Only one student suggested that more was being done in this course than he was accustom to in other classes. He made specific reference to online concepts simulations which are JAVA applets that allow students to interact with physical situations and manipulate various properties on situations they would otherwise be unable to observe or manipulate. Students' comments were brief and not very descriptive when students provided comments.

When asked about whether they thought they learned better from a male or female teacher responses were interesting. Fourteen student, male and female, responded that they thought they learned better from male teachers, seven students said it did not matter and only one student said female teacher. Sixty four percent of students believe that they learn better from male teachers. This was the only question asked to the students where gender seemed to play a role; although it was not the gender of the students that mattered (See appendix J). This was especially interesting from the standpoint of the female students. None of the female had indicated that their own gender had anything to do with their own ability to learn yet 63% of female students believe they learn better from male teachers. Other than their perception of the gender of teacher they learn from best there were no noticeable trends or differences in the responses of male and female students to other questions.

 

Discussion

 

The t-test of the pre and post test data revealed no significant difference between the scores of the male and female students. These results are consistent with what I expected regarding my own instructional methods and strategies. Given the necessary and varied learning opportunities all students regardless of gender should be able to achieve in a physics classroom. Using instructional strategies that focus on a variety of learning styles and implementing the use of a wide variety of technology, it appears at least with in this class of physics students, to provide all students with meaningful learning opportunities.

Even with no significant difference in test scores male and female students did show a significant difference in their self ascribed interest levels in physics. While 100% of female students stated that one of the reasons they enrolled in the course was because of how it appears on a college transcript only 69% of male students responded in the same manner. 85% of male students identified interest in physics as a reason for enrolling in the class while only 56% of female students stated the same. These finding only serve to reinforce that motivation is a very complex behavior. It appears from their responses that male and female students were motivated to take the course for different reasons; however, these various reasons can not be seen to affect their performance to a significant degree. At least with these students, the nature of the motivation appears to have less with the achievement than the motivation itself. Overall, the motivation of the male students was more intrinsic while the motivation of the female students was more extrinsic. Ultimately, according the data for the pre and post test indicate that the source of the motivation did not result in a significant difference in scores.

When asked if there were any factors that were likely to make them more or less successful than other students to be successful, no students answered that their gender would affect them in either a positive or negative manner. These statements are supported further from student responses when asked to rank their ability to succeed in physics. The belief of these students that their own gender is not relevant to their ability to achieve is contrary to the findings of DeBacker and Nelson (2000) whose study found girls believed they had lower ability then their male counterparts. A larger percentage of female students responded that the suggestion of a guidance counselor and recommendation of previous science teacher played a part in their decision to enroll. This trend is also contrary to previous findings of Zohar and Bronshtien (2005).

Based on their responses, students overwhelming believe that videos, demonstrations, and teacher led problem solving are the most effective in helping them learn. A common factor in these activities is there passivity. These are the activities that the students believe are most effective. I think that these responses display an intellectual laziness among many students. Many students do not want to be engaged in their own learning perhaps as a result of many years of not being involved. There seems to be a reluctance to go out on a limb, experiment, and take and active role in learning. This is trouble especially because student engagement is key to high levels of learning and achievement. While students claim that videos are effective, observation of students during a video shown during this unit indicated that fewer that 25% of students were able to stay focused during the 25 minutes clip. Three students who responded that videos were a highly effective instructional technique fell asleep at least one time during the video. Two students who also stated that videos were highly effective instructional techniques were reading a book for another course during the video clip. This type of behavior leads to the question of whether students have the ability to determine what instructional methods really help them learn the most and which one they, “like.” The comment was made many time regarding video about how much, “I really like them.” No one student was able or willing to articulate how or why they thought videos were an effective instructional technique.

Physics education research indicates that many students can go through the motion of use equations and often have little idea about what these equations mean (O'Kuma, Maloney, & Hieggelke, 1999). The literature on gender difference also indicated that the manner in which content is approached is just as important as the content itself (Tai & Sadler, 2001; Zohar & Bronshtien 2005; Zohar & Sela, 2003). Online concept simulations and task ranking problems are incorporated into every unit throughout the year in the physics courses I teach. They allow student to think about physical concept more abstractly and address their preconceived notions about the nature of the physical world. Female students indicated that they believe these two activities helped them more than their male counterparts indicated. Both activities are very active and require students to be actively engaged in the process of learning. Even though female students thought that these activities were more helpful then male student, both group thought they were less effective than the traditional more passive activities of videos, demonstrations, problems solving, and power point presentations. What students believe to be most effective and what current physics education research says aids most in increasing understanding appear, at least with these students, to be different. This disparity suggests that more information is needed about how students' perceptions of effective instructional methods and what current research says are related to their actual performance. That is to say, do students really know how they learn best? Maybe they do and maybe they don't. As professional educators, it is our job to provide all students with as many varied opportunities using as many methods and technologies as are available. This way, students will be engaged in many ways they believe help them but are also exposed to and required to go thought other processes that enhance their understand of content and their learning styles.

 

 

Conclusions

The findings of this study are relevant only to the students and teacher involved. The lack of a significant difference between the scores of male and female students suggests that every student is being provided with the necessary opportunities and instruction to learn and achieve. The varied instructional techniques and technology implemented with these students has been done purposely with the forethought of meeting every student's learning style in as many ways as possible. The focus of all instruction has been to increase conceptual understanding and problem solving ability. To meet this end, technology and instructional methods that require students to engage to the concepts and their preconceived notions about physics have been employed. While the issue of gender equality needs to be looked at greater with respect to female students and their performance in the physics classroom this study hints at and suggests that when students are taught and engaged in a wide variety of ways in provided different groups of students with different learning styles opportunities to succeed. All teachers should evaluate the achievement of their students to ensure that there are no gaps in achievement between sub groups and that all students are being provided with equitable learning experiences. In conclusion, more research is required at all levels of education to address the issues of gender equality in physics enrollment and performance.

 

 

References

Bacharach, V., Baumeister, A., & Furr, M. (2003). Racial and gender science achievement gaps in science education. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 164, 115-126.

DeBacker, T. K., & Nelson, M. R. (2000). Motivation to learn science: Differences Related to gender, class type, and ability. The Journal of Educational Research, 93, 245-254.

Greenfield , T. A. (1997). Gender and grade level differences in science interest and

participation. Science Education, 81, 259-276.

Kessels, U. (2005) Fitting into the stereotype: How gender-stereotyped perceptions of prototypic peers relate to liking for school subjects. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 20, 309-323.

Klein, J. (2004). Who is responsible for gender differences in scholastic achievement: pupils or teachers? Educational Research 46, 183-193.

Labuddle, P., Herzog, W., Neuenschwander, M., Violi, E., & Gerber, C. (2000). Girls and physics: teaching and learning strategies tested by classroom interventions in grade 11. International Journal of Science Education, 22, 143-157.

O'Kuma, T. L, Maloney, D. P, Hieggelke, C. J (1999). Ranking Task Exercises in Physics. New Jersey : Prentice Hall

Reid, N., & Skryabina, E. A. (2002). Attitudes towards physics. Research in Science & Technological Education, 20, 67-81.

Reid, N., & Skryabina, E. A. (2003). Gender and Physics. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 509-536.

Tai, R. H., & Sadler, P. M. (2001). Gender Differences in introductory undergraduate physics performance: university physics versus college physics in the USA . International Journal of Science Education, 23, 1017-1038.

Zohar, A., & Sela, D. (2003). Her physics, his physics: gender issues in Israeli advances placement physics classes. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 245-268

Zohar, A., & Bronshtien, B. (2005). Physics teachers' knowledge and beliefs regarding girls' low participation rates in advanced physics classes. International Journal of Science Education. 27 , 61-77.

Appendix A

ID # __________

Unit 3 – Pre-Test / Post – Test

AP Prep Physics

Choose the best answer to each question and write the answer in the space provided.

_____1. In which one of the following situations is zero net work done?

(a) A ball rolls down an inclined plane.

(b) A physics student stretches a spring.

© A projectile falls toward the surface of Earth.

(d) A box is pulled across a rough floor at constant velocity.

(e) A child pulls a wagon across a rough surface causing it to accelerate.

_____2. Which one of the following situations is an example of an object with a non-zero kinetic energy?

(a) a drum of diesel fuel on a parked truck

(b) a stationary pendulum

© a satellite in geosynchronous orbit

(d) a car parked at the top of a hill

(e) a boulder resting at the bottom of a cliff

_____3. In which one of the following systems is there a decrease in gravitational potential energy?

(a) a boy stretches a horizontal spring (d) a car ascends a steep hill

(b) a girl jumps down from a bed (e) water is forced upward through a pipe

© a crate rests at the bottom of an inclined plane

_____4. An elevator supported by a single cable descends a shaft at a constant speed. The only forces acting on the elevator are the tension in the cable and the gravitational force. Which one of the following statements is true?

(a) The magnitude of the work done by the tension force is larger than that done by the gravitational force.

(b) The magnitude of the work done by the gravitational force is larger than that done by the tension force.

© The work done by the tension force is zero joules.

(d) The work done by the gravitational force is zero joules.

(e) The net work done by the two forces is zero joules.

 

 

_____5. A physics student shoves a 0.50-kg block from the bottom of a frictionless 30.0° inclined plane. The student performs 4.0 J of work and the block slides a distance s along the incline before it stops. Determine the value of s .

(a) 8.0 cm (c) 82 cm (e) 330 cm

(b) 16 cm (d) 160 cm

_____6. Which one of the following statements concerning momentum is true?

(a) Momentum is a force.

(b) Momentum is a scalar quantity.

© The SI unit of momentum is kg × m 2 /s.

(d) The momentum of an object is always positive.

(e) Momentum and impulse are measured in the same units.

_____7. A rock is dropped from a high tower and falls freely under the influence of gravity. Which one of the following statements concerning the rock as it falls is true? Neglect the effects of air resistance.

(a) The rock will gain an equal amount of momentum during each second.

(b) The rock will gain an equal amount of kinetic energy during each second.

© The rock will gain an equal amount of speed for each meter through which it falls.

(d) The rock will gain an equal amount of momentum for each meter through which it falls.

(e) The amount of momentum the rock gains will be proportional to the amount of potential energy that it loses.

_____8. A stationary bomb explodes in space breaking into a number of small fragments. At the location of the explosion, the net force due to gravity is zero newtons. Which one of the following statements concerning this event is true?

(a) Kinetic energy is conserved in this process.

(b) The fragments must have equal kinetic energies.

© The sum of the kinetic energies of the fragments must be zero.

(d) The vector sum of the linear momenta of the fragments must be zero.

(e) The velocity of any one fragment must be equal to the velocity of any other fragment.

_____9. An object of mass 3 m , initially at rest, explodes breaking into two fragments of mass m and 2 m, respectively. Which one of the following statements concerning the fragments after the explosion is true?

(a) They will fly off at right angles.

(b) They will fly off in the same direction.

© The smaller fragment will have twice the speed of the larger fragment.

(d) The larger fragment will have twice the speed of the smaller fragment.

(e) The smaller fragment will have four times the speed of the larger fragment.

_____10. Two objects of equal mass traveling toward each other with equal speeds undergo a head on collision. Which one of the following statements concerning their velocities after the collision is necessarily true?

(a) They will exchange velocities. (d) Their velocities will be zero.

(b) Their velocities will be reduced. (e) Their velocities may be zero.

© Their velocities will be unchanged.

Appendix B

Students Questionnaire Questions

ID #

1. Age

2. Gender

3. Mother's occupation and highest degree earned:

4. Father's occupations and highest degree earned

5. What science courses had you taken in high school prior to this course and what grades did you earn?

Freshman year –

Sophomore year –

Junior year –

6. What math courses had you taken in high school prior to this course and what grades did you earn?

Freshman year –

Sophomore year –

Junior year –

7. PSAT Scores- MATH: VERBAL: _____

8. SAT Scores - MATH: _____ VERBAL: _____ WRITING: ____

9. Do you think a student's gender affects their ability to achieve in physics? Explain.

10. Do you think you learn better from male or female teachers? Explain.

11. What factors do you think make you more likely to be successful in this course than other students?

12. What factors do you think make you less likely to be successful in this course than other students?

13. What factors do you think make you more likely to be successful in this course than other courses?

14. What factors do you think make you less likely to be successful in this course than other courses?

15. How would you rate you interest in physics and the subject matter being studied?

Least

Circle the number the best reflects your answer

Greatest

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

16. How would you rate your ability to achieve and master physics content?

Least

Circle the number the best reflects your answer

Greatest

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

17. Since the course began, how would you rate your interest in the course?

Least

Circle the number the best reflects your answer

Greatest

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

18. Before you began the course, how would rate your parents desire for you to take the course?

Least

Circle the number the best reflects your answer

Greatest

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

19. How would you rate you mother's interest in physics?

Least

Circle the number the best reflects your answer

Greatest

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

20. How would you rate you father's interest in physics?

Least

Circle the number the best reflects your answer

Greatest

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

21. Approximately how many hours a week to spend working for this course? __________

22. What were your reasons for enrolling in this course? Mark as many choices as applicable and rank the choices from most to least influential factor.

Least influential 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-most influential

_____ Looks good on transcript for college admission

_____ Prerequisite to taking AP Physics

_____Recommended for it and didn't give it a second thought

_____ Interested in physics

_____ Parents wanted you to take it

_____ Guidance counselor suggestion

_____ Guidance counselor placement

_____ Other – Please explain:

23. Rank the following instructional techniques from least to most effective with respect to how you think they help you learn: least effective 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-most effective

_____ Concept simulations

_____ Power Point presentations

_____ Hand on laboratory activities

_____ Videos

_____ Task ranking problems

_____ Student presented solutions to problems

_____ Teacher presented solutions to problems

_____ Demonstrations

24. Are there any instructional techniques or technology that you think have helped you learn in the past that are currently not being implemented in this course? Please be as specific as possible.

25. What material did you find easiest to master this past unit? Explain.

26. What material did you find hardest to master this past unit Explain?

 

Appendix C

Table 2

Number of Male Responses and Percentage of Males responding to Which Instructional Methods are believed to be most effective

 

Most Effective

8-7

6-5

4-3

Least Effective

2-1

Concept simulations

4 – 31%

1 – 8%

6 – 46%

2 – 15 %

Power point presentations

2 – 15 %

6 – 46%

2 – 15 %

3 – 23%

Hands on laboratory activities

4 – 31%

5 – 38%

4 – 31%

1 – 8%

Videos

8 – 62%

3 – 23%

1– 8%

1 – 8%

Task ranking problems

2 – 15 %

5 – 38%

1– 8%

5 – 38%

Students presented solutions to problems

2 – 15 %

4 – 31%

4 – 31%

3 – 23%

Teacher presented solutions to problems

6 – 46%

3 – 23%

3 – 23%

1 – 8%

Demonstrations

4 – 31%

9 – 69%

 

1 – 8%

 

Appendix D

Table 3

Number of Female Responses and Percentage of Females responding to Which Instructional Methods are believed to be most effective

 

Most Effective

8-7

6-5

4-3

Least Effective

2-1

Concept simulations

2 – 22%

3 – 33%

3 – 33%

1 – 11%

Power point presentations

3 – 33%

3 – 33%

2 – 22%

1 – 11%

Hands on laboratory activities

1 – 11%

4 - 44%

1 – 11%

3 – 33%

Videos

3 – 33%

5 – 56%

1 – 11%

 

Task ranking problems

2 – 22%

4 - 44%

1 – 11%

2 – 22%

Students presented solutions to problems

3 – 33%

4 - 44%

1 – 11%

1 – 11%

Teacher presented solutions to problems

3 – 33%

5 – 56%

1 – 11%

 

Demonstrations

6 – 67%

1 – 11%

2 – 22%

 

 

Appendix E

Table 4

Percentage of Male (M) Students versus the Percentage of Female (F) Students Responding as to the Level of Effectiveness of Various Instructional Methods

 

Most Effective

8-7

6-5

4-3

Least Effective

2-1

 

M

F

M

F

M

F

M

F

Concept simulations

31%

22%

8%

33%

46%

33%

15%

11%

Power point presentations

15%

33%

46%

33%

15%

22%

23%

11%

Hands on laboratory activities

31%

11%

38%

44%

31%

11%

8%

33%

Videos

62%

33%

23%

56%

8%

11%

8%

NA

Task ranking problems

15%

22%

38%

44%

8%

11%

38%

22%

Students presented solutions to problems

15%

33%

31%

44%

31%

11%

23%

11%

Teacher presented solutions to problems

46%

33%

23%

56%

23%

11%

8%

NA

Demonstrations

31%

67%

69%

11%

NA

22%

8%

NA

 

Appendix F

Table 5

Percentage of Male (M) Students versus the Percentage of Female (F) Students Responding as to the Level of Effectiveness of Various Instructional Methods

 

 

Most Effective

8-7-6-5

 

Least Effective

4-3-2-1

 

M

F

M

F

Concept simulations

38%

55%

61%

44%

Power point presentations

61%

66%

38%

33%

Hands on laboratory activities

69%

55%

39%

44%

Videos

85%

89%

16%

11%

Task ranking problems

53%

66%

46%

33%

Students presented solutions to problems

46%

77%

54%

22%

Teacher presented solutions to problems

69%

89%

31%

22%

Demonstrations

100%

78%

8%

22%

 

Appendix G

Table 6

Reasons for enrolling in the course as given by number of male students and percentage of male students responding.

 

 

 

Number of Male Students Responding

Looks good on transcript for college admission

9 – 69%

Prerequisite to taking AP Physics

8 – 62%

Recommending by previous teacher

4 – 31%

Interest in Physics

11 – 85%

Parents wanted you to take it

5 – 38%

Guidance counselor suggestion

3 - 23 %

Guidance counselor placement

 

Other – Please Explain

3 – 23%

 

Appendix H

Table 7

Reasons for enrolling in the course as given by number of female students and percentage of female students responding

 

Number of Female Students Responding

Looks good on transcript for college admission

9 – 100%

Prerequisite to taking AP Physics

6 – 67%

Recommending by previous teacher

4 – 44%

Interest in Physics

5 – 56%

Parents wanted you to take it

4 – 44%

Guidance counselor suggestion

2 – 22%

Guidance counselor placement

1 – 11%

Other – Please Explain

4 – 44%

 

Appendix I

Table 8

Reasons for enrolling in the course as given by percentage of male students compared to the percentage of female students

 

Percent Males Responding

Percent Females Responding

Looks good on transcript for college admission

69%

100%

Prerequisite to taking AP Physics

62%

67%

Recommending by previous teacher

31%

44%

Interest in Physics

85%

56%

Parents wanted you to take it

38%

44%

Guidance counselor suggestion

3 %

22%

Guidance counselor placement

 

11%

Other – Please Explain

23%

44%

 

Appendix J

Table 9

Gender Preference of Teacher from Number of Male and Female Students Responding

 

Male Teachers

Female Teachers

No Preference

Male Students

9

0

4

Female Students

5

1

3