Diversity and inclusivity in science education

diversity-inclusivity-science-educationBy Emily Seeber, Head of Sciences

The issues surrounding gender diversity in the sciences are well known. Only 1.9% of girls continue with Physics to A-level compared to 6.5% of boys, and girls have outnumbered boys 2:1 in Biology for the last decade. On the other hand, nationally, Chemistry attracts equal numbers of male and female students at A-level. However, this does not mean there is no gender imbalance in Chemistry teaching: girls tend to say they are studying Chemistry because it will help them get into a top university, or because they want to study medicine, and boys tend to respond that they just enjoy the subject. Both perspectives need challenging: why aren’t girls studying what they love, and why aren’t boys focused on their futures?

I am a firm believer in gender-neutral laboratory practice and am beginning to work on how that might look in sciences through a long-term research project. Even in a single sex school, a class of students will identify their gender in a whole spectrum of ways, and so science lessons shouldn’t be tailored to the learning preferences of one binary gender. This Wednesday I was invited to speak about issues of inclusivity in sciences education at the Inspiring Teachers conference at the Institute of Education in London, with other panellists from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Department for Education. We had a lively discussion about some of the key underlying issues that need unpicking in schools surrounding gender, race, and class.

Fortunately, Bedales does many of these things already: we call out sexist and racist language, we discuss diversity and inclusivity openly (I spoke to the Block 3 in Wellbeing last week about the different faces of the Feminist movement in Britain today) and the students are fully engaged in the dialogue, and we have moved away from setting in sciences (strongly correlated with divisiveness in all three areas). There are still big challenges ahead for equality, but I hope that by raising awareness of the issues with Heads of Science from all over the country, we have been able to plant some seeds for change.

Find more of Emily’s thoughts on gender issues in science education on her blog:

Swiss snow, physics and protons

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By Winnie Guo and Harry Green, 6.2

Last Friday the 6.2 physicists set off to Geneva, Switzerland.

We visited the History of Science Museum on the first day which was on the frozen icy banks of Lake Geneva. Saturday was spent at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research where they operate the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and focus on research in fundamental physics.

We visited various departments in CERN and got a chance to talk to the researchers. The excellent displays and presentations were very helpful for understanding the principles behind the processes used to recreate the conditions just moments after the ‘Big Bang’ and generate and detect exotic particles including the elusive Higgs Boson. The many stages of accelerator feeding the Large Hadron Collider took protons to 99.999% of the speed of light before colliding them head-on.

The technology needed to keep the particles on track, and to make them move with the necessary precision, required super conducting magnets and electronic feedback control systems – and this interested us the most. We toured SM18 (the world’s leading magnet test facility) and discussed the implications of developing high temperature superconductors.

On the third day we also went to the UN buildings and the International Red Cross Museum before a trip to the snowy Jura Mountain where we had lots of fun. It was a brilliant trip – many thanks to the Physics Department and Vikki Alderson-Smart!