Lake Forest faculty presents research on how gender bias affects the sciences

Select faculty at Lake Forest College worked with teachers at Waukegan middle schools to study the gender differences in their math and science classes, both in learning styles and achievement. They then introduced new pedagogies to enhance learning and interest more girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) careers.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Improving Teacher Quality Grant Program funded the three-year research grant and the research was recently published in the “Success in High-Need Schools” online journal.

Lake Forest College chemistry professors Dawn Wiser and Elizabeth Fischer working in collaboration with education professor Dawn Abt-Perkins, noticed that their female undergraduate students were dropping their science courses after they unexpectedly received a low grade on a quiz or test. This failure to retain female students in science classrooms worked against girls moving ahead to STEM careers.

Interested in pursuing the problem of lack of gender equity in math and science fields, Dr. Abt-Perkins said she understood that “there are pieces of [the challenges facing female students] that we can’t change, but we can look closely at our classrooms and assess whether or not we are perpetuating those beliefs.”

Wiser and Fischer developed individual pedagogical change projects that focused on building self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and self-reliance or persistence in all of their students, especially their female undergraduates. They found that if they tweaked their teaching methods to focus more on in-class demonstrations instead of tests and quizzes, female and male students were more likely to succeed and stay in the classroom.

They presented their final research project at the Associated Colleges of Illinois’ (ACI) 6th Annual Arts and Sciences Colloquium at the end of September, which highlighted other studies about innovations in gender and STEM at high-need schools