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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 03/10/2010

“Eyeballs in the Fridge”--New data on what drives males, females into science

By Valerie Strauss

A new study on what drives people to become scientists discovered that there are differences between men and women--and that for both, an interest is sparked at an earlier age than previously thought.

The study, called “Eyeballs in the Fridge: Sources of Early Interest in Science” and published in this month’s International Journal of Science Education, looked at the experiences that drove 76 scientists and graduate students into the field.

The results suggested that more science should be taught before high school, and that a lot of science instruction may favor male students, according to co-author Robert H. Tai, associate professor of science education at the University of Virginia.

Tai, who conducted the study with Adam V. Maltese, assistant professor of science education and adjunct faculty at Indiana University, told of his own experience as a former high school physics teacher. Experiments in his class involved throwing objects such as arrows and darts.

“A lot of those types of examples are not related to the experience of most females," Tai said. "So in a way, we’re kind of working against including females in the science pipeline. The study highlights the importance of gender equity in school science."
He expressed concern that public schools today focus on providing math and science instruction to high school students.

"Our results indicate that current policy initiatives likely miss a lot of students who may be interested early on and lose that interest by high school, or could be interested early on and aren’t engaged,” Tai said. “Targeting secondary level may be too late for that."

Analysis of the data showed that most of the female participants reported an external influence as the source of initial interest, while men were more likely to identify intrinsic sources of interest, such as conducting their own experiments or a natural preference for science fiction.

The study gets its title from the story of one participant. When she was in third grade, she brought home extra cow eyes after learning how to dissect them and put them in a brown bag in the refrigerator. Her mother screamed when she opened the bag.

"From that point I started to really love science,” she said (though, presumably, she meant from the point of the experiment, rather than from the point at which her mother screamed at seeing the eyes staring back at her).

Lessons drawn from their analysis, the authors said, are that young students should have different kinds of experiences in science, chances to actively explore the natural world and learn in an engaging classroom.


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By Valerie Strauss  | March 10, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Research, Science, University of Virginia  | Tags:  education research, science  
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I wonder if more people would enjoy chemistry if the schools linked it to cooking and creating plastics and so forth. From sewing, I have realized how important math was, not that all girls are interested in sewing these days, but clothing, maybe.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 10, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

This article is sexist filth.

Posted by: member5 | March 11, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

This article assumes that public science education in the US is effective in recruiting students to science. In my 30 years of experience, I've not met another US trained scientist (males and females) who did anything but survive their "education." In fact, my daughter's current high school (a math/science center program, in fact) AP chemistry teacher has never taught chemistry. The bright spot in all of this is that the current generation of new scientists uniformly has been inspired by programs like NOVA to get them hooked and give them enough information to empower them. With this in mind, the US might better invest in non-education based science exposure and training than to try to fix an institution that is endemically broken.

Posted by: mameredi | March 15, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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