Getting Girls to Love Physics
When I was in high school I hated Physics, it was boring, the room was always stuffy and the teacher was stuffy too! I used to dread the lessons as they made me feel stupid and very uninspired. I think that’s partly why I didn’t do very well in GCSE Science.
In 2011, physics was the fourth most popular subject for A-level among boys in English schools but for girls it was down in 19th place. A new report from the Institute of Physics shows that many girls across the country are not receiving what they’re entitled to – an inspiring education in physics. This is an issue that the Institute has been working on for some time. Their
review of the research around the participation of girls in physics is widely quoted and they have promoted an “action-research model” and produced resources to support physics teachers who want to encourage more of their female pupils to engage with the subject. The Institute are working at getting girls to love physics through awareness campaigns and asking parents to get involved and help physics become more popular with all children but particularly girls.
The salaries of physics graduates are well above the national average. Over a working lifetime, the average physics graduate earns around £100 000 more than graduates of non-science subjects – recognition of a physicist’s problem-solving, analytical, mathematical and IT skills as well as their ability to grasp concepts quickly. That’s a very interesting statistic and shows that it’s not just geeks who should be interested in physics, clearly there’s money to be made in physics too!
The Institute of Physics are launching a campaign on 1st October to promote physics to young girls. ‘It’s Different for Girls’ gives all parents and teachers all they need to know about what the problem is and how we can all address it.
As a society we deal in the cultural shorthand of stereotypes, often accepting them without thinking. We see them clearly in many media representations of scientists as male, mad professors with brains the size of planets but no social skills.
- Help your daughter or son to understand gender stereotypes and how they are perpetuated and used in the media, so that they can challenge them.
- Try not to use stereotypes yourself and challenge those that you come across.
2. Create a positive physics environment
A key influence on young people’s attitudes to physics is self-concept – their sense of themselves in relation to the subject. By encouraging a positive physics environment at home, your children will be able to see themselves doing, and enjoying, physics more easily.
- Avoid comments like ‘I was terrible at physics at school’, ‘you have to be really clever to do physics’ or ‘I can’t understand physics’. – This is clearly an area that I need to work on isn’t it?
- Watch science programmes, such as the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory, with your daughter or son and make positive comments about what you’re seeing, encourage your children to talk about science with you.
- Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know or understand something – suggest ways of finding out together.
3. Add some physics to your family days out
You may associate physics with school, but there are plenty of leisure activities that take the subject out of an academic setting and allow you to experience physics in different ways.
- See what your local science and discovery centre has to offer http://sciencecentres.org.uk/centres/
- Many towns have science festivals offering events not just for children and families, but adults as well http://sciencecentres.org.uk/events/science_festivals.html
- Volunteers from the Institute of Physics take physics busking to events every summer. For this year’s schedule see www.physics.org/article-activity.asp?id=61
4. Question potential schools
Differences in teaching and school culture are significant factors in determining how successful a school is in sending girls on to do A-level physics. So when choosing a secondary school for your daughter or son, ask:
- Whether the school considers gender equity and access to all subjects.
- How many girls are studying A-level physics – this will be a good indicator of the quality of physics teaching across the school.
- In a co-educational school, what proportion of girls study A-level physics – the current national average is around 20%.
5. Encourage physics-based career aspirations
Parents can be very influential when it comes to career aspirations, but girls in particular tend to have limited knowledge and understanding of how their choices influence pay and progression routes.
- With your daughter or son, use websites such as www.physics.org, www.futuremorph.org and http://theukrc.org/wise to explore the range careers that are open to people with physics qualifications.
- Ask your daughter or son’s school for careers information and work experience that challenge gender stereotypes and provide insight into all the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career pathways.
6. Explore physics online
- The World Wide Web was invented by a physicist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and it’s now home to a wealth of information about physics, use the resources above for a great range of websites and information.
- It’s Different for Girls: The influence of schools
- It’s Different for Girls: How can senior leaders in schools support the take-up of A-level physics by girls?
- It’s Different for Girls: How can parents support the take-up of A-level physics by girls?
I want LissyLou to know that science can be really cool so I will be trying to teach her about how physics works in the real world, what you can do with physics and the jobs that use physics skills. I want her to have a positive view on all her lessons and that means I have to be positive too. I will be looking at fun physics experiments that we can replicate at home for both children that will be fun and educational.
If you have any experiments we could try then please leave a link below!
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