TOOLS

These are the tools that can help you address these issues and support girls.

Girls find physics boring, too much teacher talk

Do more experiments and hands-on work
Do more discussion based work and group work

if we're not doing something within 5 minutes, then I know it's going to be a boring lesson

Year 9 girl

Practical work may be considered not only as experiments that students undertake themselves, or demonstrations given by the teacher, but also quick investigations that student can do in pairs, for example, finding the centre of gravity of a pencil or a ruler.

You may find a number of issues when you deal with the more formal practical work:
  • find out what equipment is available – ask the technicians.
  • ask advice and help to set up practical work before you do it in class.
  • should the practical work be at the start of the topic, part way through or at the end? Girls usually prefer to have a clear idea what is expected of them rather than ‘play with the equipment’.
  • how much time can students spend on doing the practical for themselves? Make sure you leave time for students to clear away properly.
  • Is it better to do a front of class demonstration?

When students are undertaking experiments remember also that roles within student groups should be rotated. It is important that girls do some of the hands-on work and equally that boys take part in recording and presenting results. Using a portfolio of teaching approaches will engage all learning styles.

Girls say that they find the concepts hard to understand

Use analogies

Girls outperform boys at GCSE and at A – level in physics. Telling girls this helps to boost their confidence.

Use gender-neutral illustrations and examples. Analogies and examples may help students to understand more abstract concepts of physics, especially where it is very difficult to observe physical change. It is important to tell students that an analogy helps to explain how physics works rather than presenting the actual scientific explanation.

Use analogies with care since there are both good and poor analogies. While a good story can engage students, especially girls, their use can occasionally give rise to misconceptions.

Girls say they find the language hard to understand

Emphasise the different between physics and everyday language
Suggest students keep a ‘vocabulary page’ at the back of their workbook to keep physics definitions in.

New topics can be introduced using everyday, non-technical language to get across the basic 'gist' of the concepts. Trainee teachers can often be very adept at this as they are tackling these topics for the first time, and not used to using the jargon of physics.

Deliberately discuss the new use of words as if you are in a language lesson – you can even ask students to make a vocabulary section in their book. Then encourage your students to participate in the 'translation process', by using everyday language to reflect on equations or specialist STEM language or to translate a simplistic explanation into correct physics language.

Girls say they can't see the purpose of physics

Relate the physics to the real world
Find anecdotes of how physics is used in everyday life
Find careers to mention where qualifications in physics are an advantage or requirement
Use posters to demonstrate real life applications or careers.

Physics has created many applications which are now essential to our daily lives. Using examples of applications as well as natural phenomena help students to appreciate not only how important physics is in our world but also to understand how the principles of physics have been used to make everyday life what it is today.

Applications of physics affect the way we move from place to place, how we hear and see, the goods we are able to produce and many of our work and leisure activities. In using familiar examples remember that students will have had different experiences. In general girls tend to have less access to mechanical toys than boys in their early childhood so are less familiar with how or why things work.

If you use real life examples keep them simple, explain the obvious and don't assume that everyone in the class is familiar with the motion and structure of why and how even the simplest thing works.

Sometimes relating to the real world means merely mentioning a career. Whilst this is useful contextually, there is sometimes too much emphasis on careers which may leave girls with entrenched positions too early on.

Learn more about careers in physics

Girls think nobody listens to girls' perspectives or opinions

Remember the value of hearing the student voice
Remember that students’ views, attitudes and motivations are likely to different from yours and try to understand their life views
Take time during practical work or group work to talk to small groups of girls personally and ask them how things are going.

Students are happy to talk to each other about their physics lessons in groups or pairs; some schools encourage sixth formers to lead these sessions as there may be less anxiety in sharing their thoughts with other students.

When a teacher listens to the student voice, either directly or through a mediated session, or from questionnaires, there are often common themes such as a negative attitude to science, or dislike of certain classroom practices, and these can be addressed, often in collaboration with the students themselves.

Girls think it's just not a girl thing

Find ways to make sure females and physics are seen together – but beware of indicating that girls have to be boffins or super brainy to get on in physics.

Display posters of females working in physics focused environments.

Display recruitment brochures from well-known companies that seek physics qualified applicants (both graduate and apprentice)

Use the ‘Science: it’s a people thing’ resource:

The Institute of Physics in partnership with WISE and Intel created this workshop, designed to inspire girls about the STEM subjects such as physics. It shows them how these subjects connect with issues that girls care about and their importance as a gateway into a wide range of interesting jobs and careers.

I will tell my friends and family about the facts that I have learned and hopefully inspire others as I have been inspired today. (participant aged 13)

Science: it’s a people thing: a discussion workshop for girls

Use the Diversity toolkit:
The Diversity toolkit prepared by Sheffield Hallam University as part of a larger government funded STEM project is an excellent starting point for considering the individual needs of young people from different backgrounds and cultures. it can be found here.