Jonathan A. Plucker
The University of Connecticut
As awareness and concern slowly grow with respect to the barriers young women face in math and science, classroom resources are becoming more plentiful. Very few recommendations have appeared, however, for how educators and parents should evaluate these materials. The following questions are suggested as guides for any evaluation of gender equity resources in science and math, especially those that attempt to introduce potential, female ‘role models’ in scientific and mathematical fields.
When dealing with role models:
- Are potential role models presented?
- Do the role models represent variety with respect to:
- the range of scientific and mathematical disciplines?
- the time period in which they lived and worked?
- their childhood experiences?
- the path they followed (or blazed) to become a scientist or mathematician?
- their racial, ethnic, and/or socio-economic status?
- Is each person’s background described in light of his or her decision to enter a quantitative field?
- Do the profiles of the scientists and mathematicians contain an appropriate balance between their positive experiences and the difficulties that they faced?
With respect to the activities and the format of the material:
- Are “hands-on” activities included (and explained at an appropriate level)?
- Are the activities based upon each profiled individual’s work?
- Are the activities relatively easy to administer?
- Is the text interesting and highly readable?
- Are additional resources suggested?
While any evaluation should be tailored to meet one’s individual needs, I have found that the above questions are usually asked by teachers who have experience in creating or maintaining an atmosphere of gender equity in their classrooms. When evaluating more than one resource, one may find it helpful to construct a grid (see Figure 1) based upon the evaluation questions.1 With this in mind, a review of three recently published materials on women in science and math follows:
*1 – The female scientist and mathematicians are representative of a wide range of scientific and mathematical disciplines, time periods, and racial and ethnic groups.
*2 – The mathematicians in this book are representative of a wide range of mathematical disciplines, time periods, and racial and ethnic backgrounds.
*3 – The scientists in this book are representatives of a range of scientific disciplines and time periods.
Figure 1. Evaluation matrix for science/math gender equity materials
Kevin Allison Nies (1990)
California Video Institute, P.O. Box 572019, Tarzana, CA 91357
This publication has the look and feel of a workbook, which is quite appropriate considering its format and purpose (“to supplement textbook materials in the physical science curriculum at the junior and senior high level”, p. i). Each of the nineteen profiles of individuals (e.g., Hypatia, Mary Somerville) and groups (wise women & the first calendars, the queens of crystallography) is followed by at least one suggested lab, demonstration, or other activity. Some of the activities are merely crossword puzzles or worksheets, but the majority are demos or labs (supervision is necessary in some cases). This book is the best resource I have found that discusses the lives/work of women scientists and provides pertinent activities for students to enjoy.
Teri Perl (1993)
Wide World Publishing/Tetra, P.O. Box 476, San Carlos, CA 94070
Eleven profiles of female mathematicians or computer scientists are included in the latest effort by the author of Hypatia and Her Sisters, with two to four activities following each profile. These enrichment activities are often creative and stimulating, although some are merely pencil-and-paper worksheets. The book is very readable, but I often had the impression that a more in-depth analysis was lost because of this. For example, Perl notes that Boole’s most significant contributions occurred after her husband’s death, when she obtained a job based upon her own merits. At that point, the opportunity exists for a discussion of the difficulty of family-career balance and the possibility of productivity throughout the life-span; but this and other similar opportunities are missed. Another, minor criticism deals with the sections describing the EQUALS project and the Expanding Your Horizons conferences. The descriptions of these two programs, which seek to increase the participation and performance of young women in math and science, seem out of place-the only audience that will benefit from these sections (or find them remotely interesting) are those individuals who are starting their own intervention programs-definitely not the group benefiting from the first 11 sections.
Nancy Veglahn (1991)
Facts On File, 460 Park Ave. South, NY, NY 10016; also available from the National Women’s History Project
This reference book is strongest when it discusses each woman’s achievements and tribulations against the backdrop of her youth and family life. However, Veglahn occasionally uses a didactic format (i.e., one which appears to just list certain accomplishments), which would probably make the text disinteresting for some younger children. “Further Reading” lists are provided after each of the 11 profiles, and each cited work is briefly described in one or two sentences. An index and chronologies are also provided, features which are missing or underdeveloped in the other two books. However, as Women Scientists is meant to be a work of reference (and the other books are more activity-oriented), this difference is understandable.
As you conduct your own evaluations of gender equity materials, keep in mind that each resource aims to accomplish different goals and, therefore, has its own strengths and weaknesses. Of the books reviewed here, Women Scientists is meant to be a secondary reference book, while From Sorceress to Scientist and Women and Numbers introduce potential role models and reinforce each woman’s contributions through activities based upon her work. As with any materials used in the classroom, teachers need to adapt these resources into their curriculum as they see fit.
When teachers of grades K – 6 search for gender equity material, they are usually disappointed with the results. Most resources, especially those in math and science, are written for the middle and high school years because many of the problems that young women face begin to surface at this time. However, the foundations of these difficulties are formed much earlier, perhaps during the preschool years. Hopefully, authors and publishers will realize this in the near future and begin to market quality materials for preschool and elementary school children, educators, and parents. Meanwhile, educators and parents may want to adapt the best resources for middle/high school into a form suitable for the younger children with whom they interact.
1 Blank, elaborated copies of the evaluation matrix are available at no cost and may be copied without limit. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope c/o the author to NRC/GT, The University of Connecticut, Box U-7, Storrs, CT 06269-2007.