Female participation in secondary school physics and mathematics: motivations and influences in a regional setting

Woods, Cindy (2011) Female participation in secondary school physics and mathematics: motivations and influences in a regional setting. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This doctoral study explored female secondary school students' motivation to participate in Physics and intermediate mathematics, and the influences and barriers that impact their participation. Over the last two decades, the proportion of secondary school students participating in Physics or intermediate mathematics courses has significantly declined and the language of "crisis" is being used to describe the state of mathematics and science in Australian secondary schools and universities. One solution to alleviate the predicted skills shortage is to draw greater numbers of STEM participants from traditionally underrepresented groups, such as female secondary school students. The study took a unique comparative approach, researching exclusively with girls, to gain a better understanding of female students' motivation to participate in Physics and intermediate mathematics in the senior years of secondary school.

The study took place in rural and regional North Queensland between 2007 and 2010, and was undertaken in three stages. Stage One involved a survey of 97 female mathematics and science proficient Year 10 students, and 44 female Year 11 and 12 students enrolled in Physics and intermediate mathematics. Stage Two consisted of interviews with 11 Physics and intermediate mathematics teachers, and 9 Year 12 female physics and intermediate mathematics students. Stage Three comprised a survey of 117 female Year 12 English and intermediate mathematics students.

Researching exclusively with girls has increased understanding of North Queensland rural and regional girls' attitudes and values towards Physics and intermediate mathematics, and their motivations to participate in these subjects, factors sometimes obscured by gender comparative studies. Teachers' attitudes and values towards female participation in Physics and intermediate mathematics vividly illustrated some of the barriers girls must overcome to participate and succeed in these subjects. A key conclusion emerging from this study is that these girls who chose to participate in Physics and intermediate mathematics are smart, enthusiastic, committed students with a science orientation who value school, and their world of family and friends is congruent with school. These girls do not conform to traditional gender stereotypes; they like science and mathematics, enjoy active learning, and value the hard-edged clarity and certainty of mathematics. The findings from this study explode the gender stereotyped myths that girls prefer humanities subjects over mathematics, girls are passive learners, and girls are not interested in science and mathematics.

Item ID: 29233
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: gender; female participation; education; secondary schools; physics; mathematics; North Queensland; student characteristics
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2013 23:31
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130308 Gender, Sexuality and Education @ 34%
13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 33%
13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130208 Mathematics and Numeracy Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 33%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939904 Gender Aspects of Education @ 34%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930199 Learner and Learning not elsewhere classified @ 33%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930299 Teaching and Instruction not elsewhere classified @ 33%
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