Reducing the gender gap in the physics classroom

Catherine H. Crouch

Swarthmore College

Oct. 25, 2007, 3:00 PM
Serin 385

We investigated whether the gender gap in conceptual understanding in an introductory university physics course can be reduced by teaching with interactive engagement methods that promote in-class interaction, reduce competition, foster collaboration, and emphasize conceptual understanding. To this end, we analyzed data from the introductory calculus-based mechanics course for non-majors at Harvard University taught traditionally or using different degrees of interactive engagement. Our pretest results indicate that on average, female students start out behind the male students in conceptual understanding, as measured by the Force Concept Inventory. Teaching with certain interactive strategies not only yields significantly increased understanding for both males and females, but also reduces the gender gap. The greater the interaction, feedback, collaboration, and emphasis on understanding, the greater the reduction in the gender gap. We also analyzed data from the algebra-based mechanics course, and found that although the gender gap reduction is not as pronounced as in the calculus-based course, interactive teaching also benefits all students, and reduces the gender gap.

Last modified: Sun Oct 14 17:40:51 2007