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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Gender differences in career choices: Why girls don’t like science

Suggestions for parents

Encourage girls' interests in science

Parental encouragement is positively correlated to children's participation in

science activities.

19 Encouragement can take many forms. For instance:

• Parents can encourage their daughters' interest in science by asking about

the day's science class at school or in the childcare setting. By discussing

their children's science lessons, parents show their approval of the children's


• If a child shows interest in learning more about a particular subject, parents

can show encouragement by making plans to go to the library or to visit a

relevant website for more information.


Parents of high-school girls can encourage them to take science courses. If

the child is hesitant or lacks confidence in the subject, parents can offer to

provide a tutor.

• Parents can provide opportunities for daughters to meet women scientists

and hear about their career paths.

Engage in science-related activities

Co-activity (especially mother-child co-activity) is positively related to children's

participation in science activities.

20 Joint activities between parents and daughters

expose children to more opportunities to hear cognitively demanding language, in

turn fostering more developed scientific thinking. Here are a few suggestions:

• Parents can give their daughters early science experiences, such as visiting a

local science museum.

• Parents can take advantage of the attractiveness of television for young

viewers by watching a science-related program with their children.

• Parents can also take advantage of visitor tours offered by some

manufacturing and engineering plants to expose their children to the

applications of science in such settings.

Provide science-related games, toys and books

Children's participation in science activities is positively related to the provision of

science materials in the home.


• Parents can provide girls, as well as boys, with chemistry sets and


• Parents can capitalize on girls' interest in reading by encouraging them to

read science-related books. Studies show that although parents encourage

girls to read, they do not typically encourage the reading of science books.


• The internet provides hundreds of sites where kids and parents can learn

about various science subjects or play science-related games (see below for

a sampling of links).

Programs for girls in science

Sisters in Science Program

The Sisters in Science Program is an after-school intervention implemented and

tested in a Philadelphia school district (Hammrich, 1997).

23 The objective was to

give girls experiences in cooperative, exploratory, and hands-on science (and

mathematics) activities. In addition to active involvement with science, the girls

participated in self-reflection and discussions promoting female role models,

demystifying science, and career choices. Fourth-grade girls participated in 20

weekly 90-minute after-school activities, ranging from developing a community

environmental awareness campaign, conducting surveys of the school's and

neighbourhood's recycling programs, testing for levels of pollution in their school

and homes, identifying pollutants found in garbage, air, or water, and creating

an environmental newsletter for distribution to the school. The reflection and

discussion activities were designed to help the girls better understand their

personal learning, challenge stereotypical notions about science, and develop

better thinking skills. At the end of the intervention, pre- and post-tests showed

positive changes in the girls' interests, attitudes, and awareness of science and the

possibility of pursuing a science career.

Girls in Science

For three years, the San Diego Zoo has been running an after-school Girls in

Science mentoring program for girls between 12 and 14 years of age (McLaughlin,


24 For part of the program, the girls visit the zoo where they can see the

zoo's operations from behind the scenes, meet with female scientists who talk to

the girls about their careers and interests in science, and speak with various field

researchers, behaviourists, geneticists, veterinarians, and zookeepers. The girls

get to try out the scientists' equipment and learn its significance. Following each

scientist's presentation, the girls are asked to review the concepts they learned

as well as examine the scientists' careers and how they might fit into their future.

The program ends with an overnight camping trip to the desert or the mountains

where the girls meet more female scientists who introduce them to careers

outside of the zoo. On these occasions, the girls get to participate in hands-on

activities such as tracking endangered species and learn about environmental and

conservation issues.

Alberta Science Literacy Association

Although not geared specifically to girls, the Alberta Science Literacy

Association is a program that links scientists from industry, government, and

post-secondary institutions to students and communities across Alberta.

The scientists address scientific disciplines from aeronautical engineering to

zoology and use hands-on activities, show and tell, questions and answers, and

discussions to deliver their message.


Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS)

CAGIS is geared towards girls aged 7 to16 who meet regularly to explore science,

technology, engineering, and mathematics with women (and men) who have

chosen careers in these fields. The girls are given opportunities to talk about

school, careers, and other issues that concern them when they think about their

futures. Since 1995, CAGIS has a number of chapters across Canada, with new

chapters in development. Chapter events are held on weekends or after school

and last about 1 to 2 hours. They usually take place at the workplace of the

scientist and consist of a mini presentation introducing a science, technology,

engineering, or mathematics concept, followed by hands-on activities to

consolidate the learning and make science fun.