Meeting thirteen (12th June): Competition and Girls

Alison Booth and Patrick Nolen, “Choosing to Compete: How Different Are Girls and Boys?”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 4027. [Download .PDF, 288 kB]

Abstract: Using a controlled experiment, we examine the role of nurture in explaining the stylized fact that women shy away from competition. Our subjects (students just under 15 years of age) attend publicly-funded single-sex and coeducational schools. We find robust differences between the competitive choices of girls from single-sex and coed schools. Moreover, girls from single-sex schools behave more like boys even when randomly assigned to mixed-sex experimental groups. Thus it is untrue that the average female avoids competitive behaviour more than the average male. This suggests that observed gender differences might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits.

This paper is rather long, but a great deal of it refers to the design of the experiment. Pages 22-37 contain the paper’s references and deal with experimental design and statistical results and are secondary to the paper’s conclusions. The key section of the paper is “Section V – Choosing to Compete”.

Key Conclusions:

  • Single sex schoolgirls scored higher in the piece-rate round than coed schoolgirls. In the mandatory round there was no difference between single sex and coed schoolgirls.
  • A girl who attends a single-sex school is 42 percentage points more likely to choose to enter the tournament than a girl from a coed school and “it would seem that a single-sex educational background has the potential to change the way women view tournaments.”
  • A significant gender gap exists only between students from coed schools. Boys and girls from single-sex schools choose to compete equally frequently. Girls from coed schools at 71 percentage points less likely to enter the tournament than boys from coed schools but girls from single-sex schools enter as often as boys from coed schools: “there is no signi…cant difference in the probabilty of a single-sex girl and a coed boy chosing to enter the tournament.”
  • A girl from either a single-sex or coed school randomly assigned to an all-female group is 16 percentage points more likely to choose to enter the tournament than a girl randomly assigned to a coed group, “suggesting that the environment in which a girl is placed affects whether or not she chooses to compete.”

Discussion Points:

  • Should we encourage the adoption of single-sex groups for competitive work in coeducational schools?
  • How can we encourage girls in coeducational schools to be more competitive? And should we encourage these girls to be more competitive.
  • To what extent does the sex of their teacher impact upon girls’ decisions to compete or to take a subject at A Level?

Please suggest further discussion points in the comments below.


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Meeting Twelve (22nd May): Boosting science learning through the design of curriculum materials

Bybee, Rodger, “Boosting science learning through the design of curriculum materials” (2006). [Download .PDF]

(Abbreviated) Abstract: How can curriculum materials enhance science teaching and student learning? In answering this question I draw upon my experience at the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) to describe the design and development of effective science curricula.

To be dis­cussed Tues­day 7.30, 22nd May, @teachingofsci to moderate.

Discussion points:

  1. How do your students demonstrate (or when unsuccessful, fail to demonstrate) the three principles of learning suggested by previous research? How do you try to ensure your teaching fulfils the requirements of addressing these?
  2. What are the biggest challenges of applying the 5Es model (more explanations by @hrogerson here and NASA here) to your curriculum design process, for example new schemes of work? Without complaining about exam boards, Ofsted or the Department for Education, how might we improve our use of this model?
  3. How might we replicate the collection of evidence about student learning in the UK school system? What changes if any might we need to make to the methods to accomodate our system (with summative exams at the end of the 9-11 time period)?
  4. It is interesting to see teacher learning addressed in the same context as that of students. How might we best share these ideas more widely with professional colleagues – both during ITT and CPD – assuming that we chose to do so?


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Archive: Meeting Eleven

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Meeting Eleven (8th May): School is not where most Americans learn most of their science

John Falk and Lynn Dierking “The 95 Percent Solution: School is not where most Americans learn most of their science”, American Scientist 98: 486-493 (2010), doi: 10.1511/2010.87.486. [Download .PDF]

Abstract: We contend that a major educational advantage enjoyed by the US relative to the rest of the world is its vibrant free-choice science learning landscape—a landscape filled with a vast array of digital resources, educational television and radio, science museums, zoos, aquariums, national parks, community activities such as 4-H and scouting and many other scientifically enriching enterprises.

Discussion Points:

  • John Falk claims that the evidence suggests that “most science is learned outside of school”. Thinking about your own friends or colleagues who are not scientists or science teachers, how true do you think that statement is?
  • The UK has some of the best museums, science centres, botanic gardens, etc. in the world. Some schools make great use of them and others don’t. Should we be investing more time and effort in visits to such places?
  • What would you like to see museums, etc. offer that they don’t already?
  • Partnerships between museums, etc. seem to have much to offer. But what might these partnerships look like?
  • How do we help students to maximise their learning when they are out of school – or on their home computers?

Thanks to Professor Justin Dillion for these discussion points.


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Meeting Ten – Science Education for the Twenty-First Century

Osborne J, Science Education for the Twenty-First Century Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, 2007, 3(3), 173-184 (.pdf link)

Abstract: This paper argues that the dominant form of science education that is common across the world rests on a set of values that have no merit.  Moreover, such practice has a negative impact on students’ attitudes to science.  It makes the case that the primary goal of any science education should be to develop scientific literacy and explores what that might consist of and why such an education is necessary in contemporary society.  It concludes by examining some of the challenges that such a change might require.

To be discussed Tuesday 7.30, 24th January @teachingofsci to moderate).

Discussion points:

  1. Which of the ‘seven fallacies’ are most significant in your lessons? How do you overcome them – or do you think the problem of one or more is overstated? Can you suggest simple principles or changes, either in the classroom or within the teaching specification, which would address these issues?
  2. This paper, like many others, discusses the need for and definition of ‘scientific literacy’. Leaving aside the aspect described as ‘cognitive’, how do science courses test this skill and what tasks do you use to teach it? Do the ideas in the paper suggest new ways in which we could help our students develop scientific literacy?
  3. Osborne places great importance of the ability to reason in science – critical thinking – and it is hard to disagree, but it is a claim that has been made for other subjects, including Latin and Philosophy. How can we demonstrate the acquisition of reasoning skills in our classrooms and lessons?
  4. Osborne lists ‘five dimensions of practice’ which describe teachers’ use of pedagogy. Where would you place yourself on each scale and how have you progressed towards (his definition of) the ideal? What have you changed, or what do you aim to change in the future? How would you share this with colleagues?
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Meeting Nine – The Impact of Teacher Subject Knowledge on Student Achievement

Johannes Metzler and Ludger Woessmann “The Impact of Teacher Subject Knowledge on Student Achievement: Evidence from Within-Teacher Within-Student Variation” IZA Discussion Paper Number 4999 (2010) (.PDF link).

Abstract: Teachers differ greatly in how much they teach their students, but little is known about which teacher attributes account for this. We estimate the causal effect of teacher subject knowledge on student achievement using within-teacher within-student variation, exploiting a unique Peruvian 6th-grade dataset that tested both students and their teachers in two subjects. We circumvent omitted-variable and selection biases using student and teacher fixed effects and observing teachers teaching both subjects in one-classroom-per-grade schools. After measurement-error correction, one standard deviation in subject-specific teacher achievement increases student achievement by about 10 percent of a standard deviation.

Discussion Points:

  • The paper concludes that a 1σ increase in teacher subject knowledge equates to a 0.1σ increase in student achievement. Is this supported by your own experience?
  • Is this paper evidence that non-physics specialists should not be allowed to teach physics?
  • Do you think teachers should be tested on their subject knowledge?
  • How much time and effort have you put into dewveloping your subject knowledge since you started teaching?
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Meeting Eight – Teaching energy: thoughts from the SPT11–14 project

Ian Lawrence, (2007) “Teaching Energy: Thoughts from the SPT11–14 Project” Physics Educucation 42 (2007): 402-409. doi: 10.1088/0031-9120/42/4/011 (.PDF link).

Abstract: Describing the world in terms of energy is necessarily quantitative: one must be able to do the sums for the description to gain a purchase. Whilst teaching younger children (say 11–14 years old) the full quantitative description is not available and this has made the introductory teaching of energy a contentious area. By focusing on representations of energy that respect this quantitative essence, without demanding that calculations are actually done, one can develop a manipulable model of the abstract idea of energy to be shared with children that is much more plausible, intelligible and fruitful than one based solely on a verbal description. Here I argue this case, indicating the ways in which such a model may be useful.

With thanks to @gwiff (Griff John) for suggesting the paper and the IoP for making it available for free.

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Archive: Meeting Seven – Classroom Demonstrations

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Meeting Seven – Classroom demonstrations: Learning tools or entertainment?

Catherine H. Crouch, Adam P. Fagen, J. Paul Callan and Eric Mazur (2004) “Classroom demonstrations: Learning tools or entertainment?” American Journal of Physics on the Internet, Physics Education Research Section. (.pdf)

Summary: We compared student learning from different modes of presenting classroom demonstrations to determine how much students learn from traditionally presented demonstrations, and whether learning can be enhanced by simply changing the mode of presentation to increase student engagement. We find that students who passively observe demonstrations understand the underlying concepts no better than students who do not see the demonstration at all, in agreement with previous studies. Learning is enhanced, however, by increasing student engagement; students who predict the demonstration outcome before seeing it, however, display significantly greater understanding.

Discussion Points: Coming soon


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Archive: Meeting Six – Learning Styles

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