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Diversity

Rosalind Franklin, DNA and the Interference of Light

Roberta Tevlin, Editor OAPT Newsletter, Teacher at Danforth CTI
Roberta@tevlin.ca

We need to incorporate more diverse examples of scientists in our courses. Sara Cormier (Physics Instructor at McMaster University) and I are trying to develop resources that will help teachers to do this. (If you would like to be a part of this — please send me an email!)

I started to compile a data base of good examples when I found myself completely distracted by the work of Rosalind Franklin. Her work on the X-ray crystallography of DNA fits perfectly into a lesson about the interference of light! As well as showcasing an important female scientist, an examination of her work can deepen students’ understanding of interference patterns and it highlights a very important connection between biology, chemistry and physics. I found a couple of short videos and a really simple, cheap demo that shows why the interference pattern formed by DNA provides clear evidence of its helical structure! Read More...

“Why Am I Not Getting This?” Feelings of Competence Among Young Women in Physics and Strategies to Strengthen These

Lindsay Mainhood, M.Ed., OCT, current research assistant at Queen’s University
lindsay.mainhood@queensu.ca

As a physics teacher, have you heard your students question their competence in physics? Have you heard them doubt their competence, or even express defeat in understanding physics? For reasons that may be obvious, such feelings among students can be adverse to their success and continuation in physics. Such feelings among young women can be understood as particularly detrimental on the journey toward gender equity in physics.

To explain why feeling competent is an important aspect of students’ success in physics, a research-based rationale is helpful to consider. Physics identity, a concept suggested by Hazari, Brewe, Goertzen, & Hodapp, can be described as the extent to which someone feels like they are a “physics person” (2017, p. 96). A strong physics identity is dependent on the development of four feelings (interest, competence, performance, and recognition). The importance of students’ development of physics identity is substantiated by the fact that physics identity has been shown to strongly predict students’ academic success in physics (Bliuc, Ellis, Goodyear, & Hendres, 2011) and career choice (Hazari, Sonnert, Sadler, & Shanahan, 2010). Feelings of competence, one component of physics identity, are the focus of the article. Competence can be defined as the feeling of being capable of understanding physics concepts.

In this article I share my research study’s findings related to young women’s feelings of competence during their high school physics education. This article’s aim, then, is to connect teachers to their students’ feelings of competence, or lack thereof, and to underscore the importance of helping students to feel competent for success and continuation in physics. Finally, I offer practical recommendations for teachers to help support feelings of competence in students in the physics classroom. Read More...

Fostering Physics Identity to Support Young Women in Physics: A Focus on Interest

Lindsay Mainhood, OCT, recent M.Ed. graduate and current research assistant at Queen’s University.
lindsay.mainhood@queensu.ca

The underrepresentation of women in physics is apparent at all levels of education and in nearly all countries of the world. When looking at the metaphorical leaky pipeline that supplies the field of physics with women, the largest “leak” or loss of young women from physics occurs in the period between the end of secondary education and the first year of post-secondary education (McCullough, 2002). At this time, we see women’s participation in physics education decline from 36% to 20% across Canada, a 16% loss of women from physics education (NSERC, 2010). According to other physics education research, high school is the period of education most likely to spark young women’s physics interests (Ivie, Cuzjko, & Stowe, 2001). This is of educational concern given that most young women reject physics in the period immediately after experiencing high school physics (Hazari & Potvin, 2005).

How might physics education be failing at recruiting and retaining young women? This article focuses in on findings from a study that sought to understand girls’ experiences of barriers (any factor that negatively influences their ideas and feelings about studying physics) in high school physics education. Nine women, who are now studying in a variety of Ontario university programs at undergraduate and graduate levels, met four times in a group setting as part of the research study to discuss their experiences in high school physics classes. This article offers teacher-oriented recommendations based on factors that influence young women’s ideas and feelings about studying physics. Read More...

Gender in Ontario Physics Classrooms

John Caranci, Lecturer in Physics and Chemistry Teaching, C.T.L., Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto
john.caranci@utoronto.ca

What does the gender balance in high school physics look like in Ontario? According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, 7,590 women earned a grade-12 physics credit in 2005/6 and nine years later there were 9,252. That is a 24% increase! At first glance it looks great. However, the increase for men was close to the same and from 2005 to 2015 the percentage of grade 12 credits in physics earned by women has remained steady at 31 ± 1 %. The good news is that while school population has decreased, the number of physics credits has risen from 23,542 to 25,589. The bad news is that the gender imbalance has not changed. Read More...

PER Corner: Fixing the Gender Imbalance in Physics

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP teaching and learning, Assistant Curriculum Leader York Mills C. I.
chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

I have a problem in my physics classes: by grade 12, only one third of the class is female. I used to think of this as a fact of life, or something beyond my power to change, but now I am sure that is wrong. Too many girls are missing out on some of the best training in critical thinking available in high school. Research suggests why: girls experience physics education differently than boys do. By understanding these differences, I am modifying my classroom to create an environment that supports girls and encourages their future participation in physics. Read More...
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