Barriers to physics
Jessica Rowson, Institute of Physics
For most of history, physicists have been pale and male. Is this changing? Jessica Rowland looked at recent successes and what can be done at a classroom level to encourage participation and progression of all, through contexts, careers and inclusive teaching techniques
What are the barriers?
Poor careers guidance;
Other teachers, unfortunately;
Girls’ thinking the subject isn’t for them and other people thing physics isn’t for girls;
Not for creative kids;
Primary school teachers not encouraging;
People who don’t like maths;
Picking the subject minimizes choice
Children being in low socio-economic group
Physics is hard? —————— No it isn’t
Literacy and numeracy levels
Experiences beyond school including expectations regarding future employment
Access to high quality, specialist teaching
“Science isn’t for me”
Most students like science – but few aspire to be scientists
The more science capital a student has, the more likely they are to aspire to be scientists.
The science capital teaching approach may help teachers engage with their students
At KS3 it will promote doing science at GCSE; At KS4 it will promote doing science at A level; At KS5 it will promote doing STEM at degree level
The process involves personalising and localising the subject
Valuing what students think and say
Building and engaging
Even a 3% improvement in science capital had the following effects in schools using the approach: From 5% to 21% improvement in students wanting to do science; From 27% to 42% improvement in students thinking science was relevant to their lives
There was also changed in out of school practices
It was discovered that young people are more likely to continue maths and physics post-16:
If they have been encouraged to do so by a key adult – either a family member who believes in the worth of these subjects, or a teacher;
If they believe they will gain from studying the subject in terms or job satisfaction or material rewards such as a good salary;
If they are good at the subject and can show they understand it in depth;
If they have been well-taught.
There is a cumulative effect
What about girls?
Only about 21-23% of physics students are female. Why?
Shortage of physics teachers;
Girls don’t think physics is for them;
It is hard;
They don’t know what they can do with physics;
Lack of careers advice
Smash the stereotypes
To understand how to smash stereotypes you need to understand them. Unfortunately, the unconscious brain gets working. This is difficult to change. It has been shown that adults tend to treat very young children differently if they know they are boys or girls.
There are inherent expectations by gender
Girls are appreciated for their appearance (they need to be made to see that this is not important other than being healthy)
Boys are appreciated for their work (although young men are increasingly becoming more body conscious)