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Gender and Science Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2002-02-25 16:04:57
Link to this Comment: 1154

Welcome to the forum area for discussing the intersections of gender and science. We invite you to share your thoughts here on these and related matters....
Anne Dalke

Thank You
Name: Peggy Holl
Date: 2002-02-25 16:12:18
Link to this Comment: 1155

Thank you for organizing Thursday's gender and science event. I thought it went very well and benefitted from attending and from reading the papers beforehand even though they were not really discussed. I'm getting to the point where I think I understand what "feminist scholarship" means--maybe! I'm impressed with the way Anne F-S acts to link together folks with different but inter-related agendas, and how she organizes ideas. She is interested in putting theory into practice instead of critiquing what has gone before, and she recognizes different institutional contexts. I left feeling very thankful that I'm in a small department of relatively progressive-thinking folks. We have enormous freedom in setting our curriculum and course content compared to folks at many of the other institutions in the consortium. But life ain't perfect.

At our faculty meeting Friday I raised with my department the idea of teaching a special "recitation section" of intro bio (to put into practice my kindergarten-style ideas). Folks agreed it would be a good idea, but the logistics of how to offer it proved so overwhelming as to be unworkable. I don't want to do a special section of Intro; rather I want to find ways of giving additional pro-active help to folks in the big pre-med class who are motivated but struggling. The issue is finding a safe way to target the potential bottom of the class without making those students feel self-conscious or inadequate. Any ideas? Cheers, Peggy

my take-home ideas
Name: Sharon Burgmayer
Date: 2002-02-25 19:08:08
Link to this Comment: 1166

First, another 'thank you' to Anne for her part in organizing the seminar/discussion and for inviting me. I feel enlightened!

There were for me two focal points from the very successful discussion Thursday:

1) the idea suggested by Steve Fifield, the biologist from U. Del, who offered that the resistance/unwillingness of scientists (in general) to be drawn into different ways of approaching/teaching their sciences (which would appeal to, for example, women's studies majors) is correlated to their resistance to taking a fresh look at how they view science _and_ how they view themselves in that process. And furthermore, to ask them to consider a new way to teach or do science is asking them to reconsider themselves. This is huge, this is important and this is the barrier. I don't know how to overcome it...but it will take a remarkable gentle awareness and diplomacy.

2) Of the articles supplied for reading prior to the talk, the one that most rocked me with a new idea was the response of Sandra Harding: her comparison of the sciences as being more like the arts and completely lacking the critical partner of the arts, the critical analytic studies of the "humanities". Wow! I never thought of it that way and I all of a sudden understood why I had resonated with an arts colleague's comments in a related ongoing discussion of the "two cultures" at Bryn Mawr.

What would it be like to teach chemistry/science as an art? I like the idea; it fits better. We frustrated chemistry teachers are all the time making the analogy of practice required for doing well in chemistry to the practice required to play/perform an instrument: first one needs some mastery of technique before they can enjoy the experience of joining themselves to the enterprise. The idea of chemistry as an art perhaps doesn't capture the full range of science from the inside, but it might be an improved approach for both scientists and non-scientists.

a response for Peggy
Name: Sharon Burgmayer
Date: 2002-03-05 17:06:02
Link to this Comment: 1374

Here is something to share with respect to Peggy's question about helping struggling students in intro Bio posted above. What I have to share is something I'm doing with freshmen chemistry this semester. It's chemistry so it may not apply to intro biology so easily, but you can decide.

Chemistry this year made official having a 4th hour for "recitation" in both the gen chem and organic chem courses. My colleagues have pretty much stuck to the traditional 3 lectures per week and use the extra hour for problem solving work and/or quizzes.

Having become disillusioned with how effective my lectures were to get first year chem students learning, I changed the format to eliminate one lecture. There are two hour lectures per week, usually Monday and Friday, and on Wed and the fourth hour on Friday the 50 students are separated into two groups and further subdivided into small groups of 4 persons. For this we move into two rooms in Physics that have tables and are more conducive to small group interaction. I go with one group and Sam Glazier ( new Keck teaching/research post-doc) goes with the other. We prepare a worksheet and often a small, simple hands-on demo to guide them through thinking about a particular question.

In addition to the group work change in format, Sam and I meet with each student for 15 minute conferences each week (we each see 25 and they alternate between us every week). This idea came out of the C Sem model; I figured just as students benefit from one-on-one guidance in writing, it seems logical the same would be true for chemistry problems.

We've been doing this for just 6 weeks and it's too early for a verdict on the outcome. I can make these points, however:

-as you may already have guessed, this takes a HUGE amount of time, work and energy, not only the conferences but the group work. If I do it again, at least I'll have the worksheets already prepared

-I absolutely could not do this without Sam around. Already I know she will likely not be assigned to Gen Chem next spring and I'll have to re-consider this operation

-from the very first week of conferences, Sam and I both realized that _every_ student came to conferences with some idea that needed clearing up...and these often were misconceptions that would never have surfaced otherwise (through quizzes, exams and the like). So we felt like our efforts were worthewhile.

Disenchantment with science
Name: Jan Trembl
Date: 2002-03-06 10:21:54
Link to this Comment: 1391

I'm the editor of the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin and just discovered "A Conversation about Gender and Science" on the Science and Society website. I thought members of the forum might be interested in the article by Norwegian physicist Svein Sjøberg, which is linked at the end of this message. I found it while researching my own article on the Women in Science and Technology symposium, held at Bryn Mawr last October, which appears in the latest Alumnae Bulletin. The Bulletin article is aimed at general readers and contains many links to outside studies; I hoped to tempt those who might not ordinarily want to read about science. The article may be found at Click on "Our current issue" in left frame, and then "Reshaping the Game: Women in Science" on the right.
The disenchantment with science, by Svein Sjoberg: "S&T professionals and academics need to accept that the problem is their own problem, and that they need to engage in the search for solutions."
--Jan Trembley

Paths to bridges
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2002-03-11 08:49:05
Link to this Comment: 1479

My thanks too to Anne (and others) for triggering an encouraging, productive, and continuing conversation. My own life trajectory has come through science (biology and neurobiology) rather than through women's studies, and so what particularly excited me about the meeting was discovering that people thinking about science education from different perspectives are coming up with similar concerns and wishing for similar changes. That suggests, more strongly than does any less diverse set of voices, that there is actually a there there. And that, collectively, we might in fact move things closer to there.

I've written in the past about some of my own dissatisfactions with science education and my own explorations of ways to improve things (This isn't just my problem, friend and Getting it less wrong; see also Science and Education on Serendip). What's relevant, in the present context, is that, for me, the wish to have science education become a more inclusive, synthetic, inquiry-based, and open-ended activity not only didn't derive from a women's studies perspective but didn't even derive primarily from a concern about "science education" per se. Instead, I found myself frustrated, as a scientist/educator, by expectations of what science education was "supposed to be" that militated against my getting out of the classroom the kinds of creative and engaging experiences that I wanted for myself. It was a personal wish to get more for myself out of classrooms that led on to a rethinking of what students did and didn't get out of classrooms.

The point seems to me worth emphasizing for two reasons. One is perhaps obvious but is nonetheless practically important in thinking about how to move forward. "Science" is not monolithic but rather, like any other activity, embodies a diverse group of human beings, with differing attitudes/perspectives/aspirations. Within the science community, there are many, both female and male, who would be pleased to see some changes in how science is taught, are working on such changes (cf. Bio 103 and Bio 202) and would be delighted to make common cause with others who would also like to see change.

The other relevant aspect of my personal trajectory has to do with our conversation about being "uncomfortable" in the classroom when one may be dealing with material in which one is not an "expert". Part of the "more for myself" that I wanted out of classrooms was in fact the wish to give up the guise of an "expert", so that students were more inclined to themselves explore things in a way that challenged (and hence contributed to) my own thinking. What I've realized, after the fact so to speak, is that laying down the burden of being an expert is in fact good not only for me but for students as well. To put it differently, if we REALLY want to teach students to think creatively and critically about material they are unfamiliar with, what we really need to do is to put ourselves into the same situation we are asking our students to respond to, a situation of informed uncertainty, and model for them in our own behavior how to deal productively with it.

I don't know whether that perspective is more common in women's studies programs than it is in science programs (though it may be relevant that the title of Anne's new book includes the phrase "Teaching To Learn ..."). I do think it is the "thinking together" perspective that we need more of in science education (and perhaps in education in general), and that moving things in that direction is a challenge very much worth making common cause to achieve.

group work/underprepared students
Name: Lisa Chirl
Date: 2002-03-12 22:43:47
Link to this Comment: 1489

I've been a lecturer in the chemistry department at Bryn Mawr for 10 years and have taught general chemistry almost every semester. I've taught Chemistry 101, a first semester course designed for students who are identified (by a placement exam) as having difficulty with algebra/problem solving as well as the regular general chemistry sequence (Chemisty 103/4). I have incorporated cooperative learning strategies and group work into all my classes (ranging in size from 20-60 and meeting either 3 or 4 hours/week) for almost all of that time. I hope that my experiences address some of Peggy's concerns above.

Group work seems to be beneficial for all sorts of learners, but especially for under-prepared students. (I find that most of the students who struggle with chemistry do so because of deficits in their background preparation, not because they are inherently incapable of learning chemistry.) I use both formal (assigned) groups (for quizzes) and informal groups (during lectures). I put all solutions to the lecture problems on the web giving students the opportunity participate in class discussion of the problem solutions without having to worry about missing the chance to copy important details of the actual solution into their notes.

Having students actual solving problems during lecture helps them identify (for themselves, prior to a quiz or exam) areas of confusion. I can "coach" students through areas of difficulty on a particular problem (allowing them to experience the satisfaction of actually solving the problem independently). I also use in-class problem solving sessions to model processes that might help students figure out the best strategy for solving a particular problem. This exercise is particularly helpful for the under-prepared student who may not have had extensive practice solving word problems in her high school math/science courses.

With regard to some of Peggy's concerns above--the chemistry department has some experience in this area with Chemistry 101. This class meets for five hours weekly rather than the typical three hours of the regular sequence (a fourth recitation hour was added to the 103/4 sequence this year.) The class size is limited to 25 students (or less) and meets for four hours each week. The fifth hour is a problem session led by an undergraduate TA. While we have had some scheduling issues which, for a time, inhibited some students from enrolling in the course, we have found that students generally welcome the opportunity to be in a smaller section with defined emphasis on developing problem solving skills. They also find the student-run problem session to be quite helpful; students are so often reluctant to expose their weaknesses to faculty but are quite comfortable asking another student for help. We've been very fortunate to have some very capable, compassionate students to run these sessions and the students are quite appreciative of the TAs' efforts.

Students in 101 are often disappointed to discover that no similar option exists for second semester. Also, a few students will request to transfer from 103 into 101 within a week or so of the beginning of classes. I think those facts indicate a lack of stigma associated with this course.

I am rather passionate about helping under-prepared students and would welcome the opportunity to participate in any institutional effort addressing these issues.

Thanks to Anne and Paul for establishing this forum and to Anne for bringing it to my attention.


a question for Lisa
Name: Peggy
Date: 2002-03-13 12:35:12
Link to this Comment: 1492

Lisa, I applaud your efforts at addressing the needs of underprepared students and welcome suggestions from all comers! I'm also wondering what the success rate of such a course has proven to be. Specifically, how do Chem 103 students fare in Chem 104 and in Orgo? and what about their acceptance rate into medical schools? The students I'm interested in targeting in Bio are highly motivated to succeed using these measures, and they often come to Bio hoping to find the success that eluded them in their Chemistry classes.

an answer for Peggy (underprepared students)
Name: Lisa Chirl
Date: 2002-03-14 11:08:56
Link to this Comment: 1495

I don't know how students who took Chem 101 (or 103, for that matter) fare with regard to medical school admission, though I do understand the students' interest in that topic. We haven't kept complete statistics on the successes of Chem 101 students in Chem 104 (relative to the successes of Chem 103 students in Chem 104) so the following comments are based on my impressions over 10 years of teaching this course.

Chem 101 helps many students. The extra formal class time, the problem session and the small class size all combine to create an environment where an underprepared student can develop both her skills and her confidence in her ability to master the material. These students generally go on and are successful in Chem 104 (receive a grade of 2.7 or better). While I don't know how these students perform as a group in organic chemistry, I do know that each year a few Chem 101 students become chemistry majors.

Unfortunately, some students require more help than Chem 101 can provide. General chemistry is a course that typically covers a broad range of topics over two semesters. This level of topic coverage requires that each topic is covered in a specified amount of time with little flexibility to accommodate student difficulties. Some students may simply require more time to master a particular topic than is allotted. These students are often capable of mastering the material but not at the brisk pace of the general chemistry course (which is the same in Chem 101 and 103). I often feel that certain students would benefit from having taken a course prior to general chemistry that focused on developing quantitative skills in the context of studying science, but without the pressure to complete the broad body of material generally considered to be "general chemistry". (I've worked with a group of faculty to develop a proposal for such courses but financial/institutional constraints complicate their development.)

Another group of students (a smaller group, perhaps 1 or 2 per year) who are unsuccessful in general chemistry includes students who do so poorly on the general chemistry placement exam that we counsel them not to attempt general chemistry as freshmen (and perhaps enroll in Math 001). Unfortunately, students who do poorly on the placement exam often enroll in Chem 101 despite our efforts to convince them to wait. They promise us (and their dean) that they will make every effort to seek help and I believe their assertions are genuine. They are reluctant to wait because a delay will make it less likely that they are able to enroll in medical school immediately following graduation. However, a student with weak skills is unlikely to be able to independently remediate her deficiencies. Students in this group often drop Chem 101 before completing the semester or finish with an extremely low grade (and either do not/cannot enroll in Chem 104 or are unsuccessful in completing Chem 104). The type of course I described above would help this group of people as well. These students (and other students who are unsuccesful in the first semester general chemistry course) would also benefit from more focused counselling on other routes to medical education (our own post-baccalaureate program being a case in point).

I hope this answer is not too long--helping underprepared students is a complex problem without a "one size fits all" solution.


the minority within the minority
Name: Nancy Hopk
Date: 2002-04-17 17:33:30
Link to this Comment: 1870

I was visiting the Bryn Mawr website and discovered the gender and science forum and discussion. I thought this would be an opportunity for me to share one of the issues that continues to be in the forefront of my mind. I am an African - American female biochemist and I have noticed that representing gender and ethnicity as a difficult and sometimes frustrating bind. In addition, I am even more dismayed by the paucity of minority female science majors on college campuses as well as faculty in the classrooms. I would like to begin a discussion about this issue but more than that I would like to see some changes on the campuses. Since I teach at Rutgers Camden and I was educated in the Philadelphia public school system, I am most familiar with the colleges and universities in the Delaware Valley area. Hopefully we can start with these campuses and begin to address a problem that will need the voices and actions from scientists and non - scientists. As the demographics of this nation and world change, it is imperative that the scientific community recognize what it will stand to lose if it does not seriously address this situation.

Name: Jason
Date: 2005-02-11 23:06:35
Link to this Comment: 12806

1. Human intelligence is largely hereditary.

2. Civilization depends totally upon innate intelligence. Without innate intelligence, civilization would never have been created. When intelligence declines, so does civilization.

3. The higher the level of civilization, the better off the population. Civilization is not an either-or proposition. Rather, it's a matter of degree, and each degree, up or down, affects the well-being of every citizen.

4. At the present time, we are evolving to become less intelligent with each new generation. Why is this happening? Simple: the least-intelligent people are having the most children.

5. Unless we halt or reverse this trend, our civilization will invariably decline. Any decline in civilization produces a commensurate increase in the collective "misery quotient."

Logic and scientific evidence stand behind each statement listed above.

So, what are your thoughts?


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