Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Case Studies in Science Education

Mike — Grade 7

Teacher Profile

Name Mike
Experience 27 years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 7; life science
Classroom 25 students per class; 50% male, 50% female
Demographics Middle school in a suburban district
Science Teaching Two classes, 10 hours per week
Curriculum Specified by district
Other Team leader; Science department head


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

A fter more than 20 years of teaching, Mike has observed several differences in the way that boys and girls participate in science class. He is also aware of the statistics documenting the under-representation of girls in most science fields. This year, Mike hopes to learn more about gender issues in science and to apply what he learns to his own practice.

Grass Infusion Lab

Working in pairs, students conduct a simple experiment to determine what happens when grass is added to a jar containing previously boiled water. Mike introduces the grass infusion as an example of a laboratory system and asks students to track changes over time. Students compare the infusion with a control jar, which contains only water.

Discussion Questions

Based on your own experiences, which of Mike's theories about the differences between boys and girls in science do you agree with? Which do you disagree with? What other theories can you add?

In your opinion, how might the "structure of the science" be responsible for keeping girls from "going into science?" How might "the way it's taught" be responsible?

Where would you start if you wanted to learn about and address gender differences in science?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Mike visits with Sheila Cronin, a high school science teacher in a neighboring town. Sheila is also committed to understanding more about gender equity in the science classroom and shares with Mike the idea of group work as one way to learn about and accommodate gender differences. They exchange ideas about the value of maintaining single gender work situations, but Mike's ultimate goal is to have both genders work together successfully.

Because students have previously opted to work almost exclusively in single gender groups, Mike decides to help students develop better group skills before encouraging boys and girls to work together through all phases of science study. As part of a listening skills activity, single gender pairs describe to one another details involved in building a cell model from household materials. Listeners then rephrase what they were told. Later, pairs of girls and pairs of boys present to one another a diagram representing how each pair has classified a group of single-celled organisms. Each pair then offers the other positive feedback about their work and notices differences in approaches to the task. Class members share with the full class their observations of what was appreciated in the presentations and work product.

Protists Activity

As part of a study of the Protist Kingdom, pairs of girls and boys develop a diagram representing their understanding of the similarities and differences among members of this large and diverse biological group. Each pair of boys then joins a pair of girls to share their work and to provide a supportive critique.

Discussion Questions

How would you critique the strategy of focusing on cooperative group work as one way to foster gender equity in the science classroom?

When do you think it is appropriate to encourage or assign single gender groups? Mixed gender groups?

What other aspects of science teaching and learning would you focus on in the interest of fostering gender equity?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

As the year comes to a close, Mike's science class moves outdoors and becomes involved in an ecological study of a parcel of land, or plot study. Mike wants to observe how boys and girls will work together. He does not instruct students to work in groups of mixed gender, but he does suggest it. By allowing students to make their own choices in selecting working groups as well as allowing substantial independence in designing their studies, Mike believes that both boys and girls will become more self-motivated.

The resulting mixed gender groups assign each member a specific role; however, members readily share roles when it helps the group accomplish the objectives of the study. Mike also provides students with an opportunity to make meaning of their work by allowing time for individuals to think and write before working with group members to prepare a presentation for the class. As a part of this, students are asked to consider how their work might be used in real-world situations. Mike hopes that by providing students with more reflective time, as well as an opportunity to see how their work might make a difference, he can continue to work toward gender equity in science teaching and learning.

Plot Study

As a long-term project, groups methodically investigate a sizable square parcel of land on school grounds to determine the nature of the living and non-living environments there. Groups ask and seek answers to their own questions and determine how their findings might be useful in solving real-world problems.

Discussion Questions

What aspects of the plot study do you think best address goals for gender equity in the science classroom? What improvements would you suggest?

What do you think indicates that the needs of girls are being met in the context of science teaching and learning? The needs of all students?

What questions does this case study raise for you with regard to the gender issue in science? How might you go about finding answers by conducting research in your own classroom?


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