Science education at Riverside Middle School: a case study

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ABSTRACT For more than thirty years the gender gap in science and related careers has been a key concern of researchers, teachers, professional organizations, and policy makers. Despite indicators of

ABSTRACT For more than thirty years the gender gap in science and related careers has been a key concern of researchers, teachers, professional organizations, and policy makers. Despite indicators of progress for women and girls on some measures of achievement, course enrollment patterns, and employment, fewer women than men pursue college degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to the results of national assessments, the gender gap in science achievement begins to be evident in the middle school years. Gender and school science achievement involve a complex set of factors associated with schools and child/family systems that may include school leadership, institutional practices, curriculum content, teacher training programs, teacher expectations, student interests, parental involvement, and cultural values. This ethnographic case study was designed to explore the context for science education reform and the participation of middle school girls. The study analyzed and compared teaching strategies and female student engagement in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade science classrooms. The setting was a middle school situated in a district that was well-known for its achievement in reading, math, and technology. Findings from the study indicated that while classroom instruction was predominantly organized around traditional school science, the girls were more disciplined and outperformed the boys. The size of the classrooms, time to prepare for hands-on activities, and obtaining resources were identified as barriers to teaching science in ways that aligned with recent national science reform initiatives. Parents who participated in the study were very supportive of their daughters' academic progress and career goals. A few of the parents suggested that the school's science program include more hands-on activities; instruction designed for the advanced learner; and information related to future careers. Overall the teachers and students perceived their science program to be gender fair. Eighth grade participants who had career goals related to science and engineering, indicated that their science instruction did not provide the rigor they needed to improve their critical skills for advanced placement in high school. Recommendations include the need for professional development on inquiry-based science, equitable student achievement, and diverse perspectives in science education.