A College/Precollege, Science/Humanities Collaboration
Bryn Mawr College/Lincoln High School

Thinking Together About Female/Male Differences:
Do They Exist? What Are They? Does It Matter?


Karen Cohen, who teachers English at Lincoln High School in Philadelphia, and Paul Grobstein, a member of the Biology faculty at Bryn Mawr College, worked together in summer institutes at Bryn Mawr College during the summer of 2000. Grobstein was, at the time, involved in developing a freshman seminar course which would include a consideration of female/male differences, and Cohen was interested in further developing that topic for her junior-level English classes at Lincoln. Both felt it would be useful to try and connect the two efforts. Their interest was in exploring some new ways to connect college and precollege education, as well as to bridge between the science and the humanities.


During the fall semester, Grobstein and Cohen encouraged students in their respective classes to write about their own feelings about female and male differences, in the context of readings/discussions ongoing in each class. It was made explicit that these writings would be made available to a wide readership by being posted on the Serendip website. The objective was to encourage students to regard their work as having significance beyond simply class performance, to enhance their familiarity and engagement with the web, and to develop a base of available materials which could be used for further work by these classes and others.

During the spring semester, Grobstein and Cohen prepared lesson plans for her classes which included time spent in the computer lab and a one day visit by Grobstein. These were intended to further engage the students with the use of web materials, as well as to introduce into the discussion of gender differences the perspectives of brain research as well as of the significance of actively engaging in the iterative cycle of hypothesis generation, observation collection, and subsequent generation of new questions/hypotheses. The culmination of the project, the class meetings, took place on Wednesday, 14 March, in a well-equipped computer laboratory at Lincoln High School.



1. Some interesting and useful writing was generated by students both at Bryn Mawr and at Lincoln. These online essays and notes can provide "grist" for future classroom activities and general discussions on gender issues, particularly on gender differences in perception of gender differences.

2. Students in both contexts were generally enthusiastic about writing in a way that contributes to discussion by a broader audience.

3. Relatively little was done along the lines of a high school, college exchange among students themslves at the time of writing or subsequently. This seems worth further development in future implementations of this kind of activity.

4. Useful web materials were developed and made generally available in connection with the Grobstein visit to Lincoln.

5. Lincoln students were somewhat reluctant to return, second semester, to the female/male issue. As a result, the first part of the Lincoln lesson plan was not successfully implemented. Some sense of fatigue with the subject after several weeks discussion was also experienced at Bryn Mawr. Ways need to be developed to reassure students that revisited subject will be approached in a fresh way.

6. The Lincoln classes, to varying degrees, were intrigued by the "brain making things up" approach to the old question, and were active, critical participants in the in-class activities. Ways need to be found to build on this involvement in class activities subsequent to a visit.

7. Cohen will provide additional evaluation based on experiences with her class in weeks following the in-class visit. Both she and Grobstein are, however, already convinced that activities of this sort represent a promising direction for further exploration.