Girls and physics

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Some promising results from efforts made by the Institute of Physics, and some interesting quotes too:

Teachers tend to be praise girls more for their hard work and good behaviour, whereas boys get praised more for ideas and understanding. Boys are often criticised about their behaviour rather than the quality of their work so they retain confidence in their ability despite that criticism. Girls receive less negative feedback than boys, but this is focused on their work. Where both sexes were given the sort of feedback most often given to girls, both sexes tended to lose confidence in their academic abilities.

This gender stereotyping and gendered teaching means that girls are less likely to develop a physics identity – they may enjoy physics at school and do well at it, but don’t self-identify as physicists, and as a result, tend to opt for other subjects after the age of 16. Similarly, part of the appeal of physics is the intellectual challenge that studying it provides. But female students may have less resilience when things get difficult, due to messages that they shouldn’t be studying it to begin with.

Our Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) – an IOP project funded by the Department for Education – has been running in state-maintained secondary schools in England since 2006, with the aim of developing the teaching and learning of physics. The number of students choosing to continue with physics after the age of 16 increased in SPN partner schools, with the effect particularly marked for girls – in 2014, the programme saw a 32% increase in the number of girls in these schools progressing to A-level.

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