Gender inclusive teaching at the 2016 High School Teacher Programme

05 Aug 2016 -- Kristin Kaltenhauser

Advisor for Medical Applications, Manjit Dosanjh with Pakistani teacher Hadi Hassan (Image: CERN)

For the second time, CERN's Diversity Office facilitated a work group on the topic of gender inclusive teaching in the framework of the CERN High School Teacher Programme.

The CERN High School Teacher Programme is a three week residential programme for teachers around the world to improve and update their knowledge of particle physics, associated technologies and subjects. The goal is for the teachers to take home their newly acquired knowledge to include it in their teaching curriculum.

After a pilot working group during last year’s programme entitled “Girls in the physics classroom”, the Diversity Office built on the positive feedback and invited Isabelle Collet, a researcher at the University of Geneva who studies gender in STEM education, to support this year’s work group. The participants of the working group had a great cultural diversity, with teachers from Thailand, Pakistan, South Africa, Cameroon, the UK and the Czech Republic which guaranteed interesting discussions on the very specific and varying challenges each of their classrooms face when it comes to gender stereotypes and engaging girls in physics.

Cameroonian teacher Gladys Momdjo with CERN physicist Sarah Seif El Nasr (Image: CERN)

Interviewing female scientists and engineers at CERN to inquire about their experiences and career path was also part of the agenda. Throughout the three weeks, Isabelle Collet gave valuable input on her own research on the topic, such as numbers on the situation of girls and women in STEM, how to address stereotypes during physics classes and what teachers can do to facilitate a more gender inclusive classroom.

“It really made me realise some of my own unconscious behaviours, to which I will definitely pay more attention to in the future” says Itumeleng Molefi, one of the participants. “One of the things I will take home is, that an environment of collaboration and open discussion, rather than competition, can do wonders and can engage not only more girls, but also my more introverted male students.”

The outcome of the working group was a leaflet that was distributed to all participants of the 2016 High School Teacher Programme. It collates country-specific approaches of how to address the issue, the learnings from the interviews and collects advice on how to support a gender inclusive environment in the physics classroom.

Here is a summary of the findings of the work group:

  • Reflection time – Studies have shown that, giving the students the opportunity to reflect on the learning process and outcome (e.g. a learning journal), increases the pleasure of learning for both genders significantly.
  • Collaboration, rather than competition – By nurturing an environment that is based on collaboration (e.g. through group work) rather than competition, girls’ interest in the subject can be sparked. Research has shown that girls are less engaged if the learning environment is competitive.
  • Avoiding stereotypes – We all have bias and as a teacher it is especially crucial to be aware of the remarks and examples being used to avoid common stereotypes, e.g. girls being generally better suited for social sciences and languages.
  • Open enquiry activities – Opportunities for debates, e.g. on the ethical implications of science for society, allows the students to experience science in alternative ways.
  • No painting science pink – Adapting classroom examples to a stereotypical image of girls does not work to get more girls into science.
  • Role models – Pointing out positive female role models in science and engineering and at all career levels can counteract the stereotypical image of a mature male scientist.