Herzberg medal coverage follow up

On February 18, I wrote about two pieces of national coverage of the Herzberg medal, won this year by Victoria Kaspi. She is the first woman to do so, and the two pieces approached this element of the story very differently. One (written by Emily Chung for CBC) reported that fact briefly but focused solely on her award-winning research. The other (written by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail) made the breaking of a gender barrier a central part of the story along with the research that had earned her the award. As a reader, they both struck me very differently, and I wanted to explore why. While it is very important to bring attention to gender issues in science, I felt that writing the prize announcement as a gender in science story shared some resemblance to a pattern Shachar (2000) identified in scientist profiles in the New York Times: the “inspiring woman in science” story which often emphasizes how a woman has overcome challenges (such as those related to family care) and acts as a role model, for example. I argued that it is a format that can have the unintended consequence of reinforcing the perception of women as irregular participants in science.

After my post went up, Ivan Semeniuk contacted me to ask if I would be willing to post a response from him explaining some of the editorial decisions that went into the piece. I said, yes of course. Through our correspondence he expressed concern about the original title of the post. As a result, I have changed the title of that original post and added a correction at the top.

His response follows (including that concern). It is presented in full as it was sent to me, and I have in turn responded below. My original post was written from my perspective as a science educator with a strong concern for how media messages about women in science impact girls and young women. It is interesting and helpful to me to learn more about the decisions that went into framing the article, and I can appreciate the very different perspective of a journalist and editorial team from my own perspective outside of that world. I really appreciate that he took the time to engage with me and provide these details. I do want to make clear from the outset, however, that my first post was not meant as an accusation of an individual writer with a bias problem. As reiterated above, my interest was in making sense of two very different approaches to the story from the perspective of a few studies that have examined how women scientists are presented in the media. (more…)

Call for papers: Personal stories from women in science

Me and my daughter admiring a penguin at the Calgary Zoo.Diving headlong into motherhood this year has meant less blogging (obvious to anyone who subscribes here…), but it has also made me think a lot more about the scientific life that I would hope for my new daughter and girls like her. Currently her research interests include ceiling fans, her toes, her soother, the dogs and the penguins at the Calgary Zoo. But should she be interested in pursuing science as a career, what would I want her to know?


Don’t worry so much about being the right type of science role model

What does it mean to be a good role? Am I a good role model? Playing around with kids at home or in the middle of a science classroom, adults often ask themselves these questions, especially when it come to girls and science. But despite having asked them many times myself, I don’t think they’re the right questions.


Role modeling through personal stories isn’t as easy as it sounds

I got very brave a few weeks ago and participated in a storytelling event as part of Science Online 2012, an annual science communication conference held in North Carolina. Instead of the usual guest speakers and awards ceremonies that haunt most conference banquets, this was a partnership with The Monti that brought members of our own online science community together to share intimate and often funny parts of their lives. It was a nod to the spirit of the conference, which encourages open sessions and audience contributions over slide presentations and lectures. That’s why it’s my favourite conference of the year, and it works because it’s a conference filled with fascinating people: science writers, researchers, bloggers, artists, programmers, physicians, teachers, and librarians all interested in science in the online world.


Mourning science on December 6 (Repost)

Originally posted December 10, 2010

“For 45 minutes on Dec. 6, 1989 an enraged gunman roamed the corridors of Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women. Marc Lepine, 25, separated the men from the women and before opening fire on the classroom of female engineering students he screamed, “I hate feminists.” Almost immediately, the Montreal Massacre became a galvanizing moment in which mourning turned into outrage about all violence against women.”

This summary from the CBC news archivesdescribes well the horrifying incident of that day and the impact that it has had across Canada. At most Canadian universities the day is marked with candlelight gatherings and vigils for victims of violence against women. To this day, though, I’ve never been to one.


WEPAN Webinar: Identity and persistence in STEM (with link to recording)

In September, I had the pleasure of presenting an online seminar for the Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN). In the session, I spoke about the concept of science identity and how it can help researchers like me bring together studies on interest, encouragement, confidence, and competence in science. Thinking about science identity, rather than all of the those other outcomes separately, is really helpful for finding focused strategies that can help bring non-traditional students into science and help them stay. After describing science identity, I presented results from two studies that I’ve been involved in. One I’ve blogged about before that looked for high school teaching strategies and classroom practices that were related to strong science identities in first year physics students. The second is a study that asked students about the expectations they experience in their science classes and how those expectations affect their identification with science and their desire to study it in the future. You can listen to the recording and follow the slides on Vimeo. Please excuse how nervous I must sound. It was a new (but fun) experience to present a seminar for an audience that I couldn’t see!

Identity and Persistence in STEM: WEPAN Professional Development Webinar 09 22 11 from Women in Engr ProActive Network on Vimeo.

Why do I do social research in science education? Hint, it’s not because I don’t care about learning

On Thursday, the usually provocative Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote this: “Too many teachers can’t do math, let alone teach it.” She begins by describing plans at the University of Saskatchewan to reduce the required math education courses in their elementary teacher education program.  I don’t have specific information on the USask proposal but in general I would agree with Wente that math (and science and social studies and health…) education courses are very important for elementary teachers.


Women, romantic goals and science: The evidence just isn’t there

One of the first things that came across my Twitter feed yesterday morning was a press release announcing that “Women’s Quest for Romance Conflicts with Scientific Pursuits, Study Finds”.  I’m usually pretty sceptical of press releases, especially ones that include the words “study finds.” This one, instead of eliciting mild annoyance though, made me feel nauseous. Women’s quest for romance? Really? At first glance, it sounded more like something out of Mad Men than a real study.

I’m going to put my bias right out there. I am passionate about engaging people in science and, as a result, also intrigued by what keeps them from participating. I began my academic career with the explicit purpose of exploring gender issues in science education (and I have the embarrassingly naive grad school entrance essays to prove it). A year into my master’s research, I became increasingly frustrated with research that sought to categorize women and girls and definitively assign them characteristics that interfere with their interest in science. Through my own classroom teaching experiences I was well aware of the diversity of strengths, weaknesses, desires and goals that both female and male students bring to the science classroom. Essentialist gender research not only covers up this diversity, it also misses male students, many of whom are also discouraged and excluded in science. This is why I study inclusion and exclusion in science through a lens of identity – looking at patterns in the ways that individuals define themselves (including in relation to masculine and feminine gender norms) and how these definitions come together to influence the decisions that male and female students make about studying science. All that is to say, that I am generally not inclined towards approaches that homogenize women and men but at the same time am open to the important influences of stereotypes and societal expectations that can have particular influences on science participation.

So while my first thought was “ugh”, I was willing to look openly at the data to see what they’d found. It only seems fair to tell you all of that up front. So I tracked down the full study to investigate further.

The paper announced in the press release (Park, Young, Troisi & Pinkus, 2011) is based on three consecutive small studies done to explore the connections between romantic goals and science interest. The authors explain the prevalence of gender stereotypes in Western society and how girls are typically socialized to act in gender-typical ways in (presumably heterosexual) romantic situations. They also note that women who act in ways that break gender norms tend to be viewed negatively by others. The assumption is that having an interest in science is viewed as a masculine characteristic and therefore something that women will downplay in romantic situations and when they are pursuing romantic goals.

There are many (many!) unsupported assumptions built into this logic. The most obvious issue is that scientific disciplines are not nearly equal in their association with masculinity. The authors do not make a note of this but in their questionnaire they only list those areas with significant under-representation of women (“Computer Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Chemistry, Physics, etc.” p. 3). So already, this isn’t a study about science but about particularly masculine identified areas in science. Good to know. (And actually it’s more complicated than that because different areas of engineering vary widely in gender representation and in association with masculinity and femininity)

Study 1

The first study examined two possible goals types: wanting to be intelligent and wanting to be romantically desirable. They primed the participants (all university psychology students) to think about one or the other goal type by showing them images. They prompted intelligence goals by showing participants images of books, libraries and eyeglasses (eyeglasses? That just makes me think about going to the optometrist, but okay) and romantic goals by showing them pictures of sunsets, candles and restaurants. The authors checked these images with a follow-up study to be sure that they primed the right goals (and not, say, goals of going to the optometrist) and the men and women that they asked responded that the images made them want to be intelligent or romantic in the expected ways. The main study then brought 119 students (approximately balanced between women and men and with approximately equal interest in science) into the lab. The participants were asked to rate their interest in science and in pursuing a science-related major. They then looked at one set of images (either romantic or intelligent) and answered the two science interest questions again. When they compared the two groups for women and men, there were no differences for those who had looked at the intelligence images. The women and the men in this group had about equal interest in science and in pursuing a science degree. Women who has seen the romantic images (and presumably were feeling like they wanted to be romantically desirable) reported lower interest in science than men and than the women who had seen the intelligence images.

The researchers conclude “These results support our hypothesis that women, but not men, show less interest in STEM when exposed to cues related to romantic goals versus intelligence goals. We think that women may have distanced themselves from STEM because they experience conflict between the goals to be romantically desirable and intelligent in the male-stereotypes domains of STEM” (p. 5). Sounds convincing.

Or maybe not. There are two things that I find problematic. The first is that their model showed no significant effect for prior science interest. That means that students walked into the lab, answered two questions about their interest in science, saw some pictures, then answered the same questions again and the answers they gave the first time didn’t predict the answers they gave second time. Wow, that’s one heck of an intervention! That, or the measures are problematic and don’t have great test-retest reliability (meaning that even without the pictures, people would answer the questions slightly differently from one moment to the next because they are not well designed questions). This was actually one of the first problems I noticed with the study. The researchers have taken a complex idea – interest in science (which includes interest in math, logical thinking, the natural world, abstract and explanatory thinking and more) and reduced it to a single question “How interested are you in Math and Science?” A single question like this is very prone to shifting answers. One minute I might rate my interest at a 5/7, then next maybe 6/7 because what do those ratings really mean? If we’re talking about nature maybe I’m really interested but mathematical formulas for motion, not so much. To be honest my personal answers would be the opposite – I’m all about the physics but kind of bored by taxonomy. A much more meaningful measure would have used several items, developed and tested for both validity and reliability for measuring interest in science. Krapp and Prenzel’s recent review might be a great a place to start for anyone who is interested. Without a measure that is reliable and really captures what it means to be interested in science, it’s difficult to interpret the results meaningfully.

The second issue is what is really being measured. The authors support their assertion that the effect is due to goal priming by showing that both men and women responded with the appropriate goals when they looked at the romantic and intelligence pictures. Can we know for sure that it was the goals that caused the difference in interest though? No, we can’t. That uncertainty is a normal part of all social research and for that reason alternative explanations should always be explored. My prime contender in this case is stereotype threat.

Stereotype threat is the anxiety that people can feel when they are in situation in which they might confirm a negative stereotype about their gender, racial or cultural group. For example, when reminded of the stereotype that girls aren’t good at math, girls tend to do worse on math assessments than they would otherwise.  Stereotype threat doesn’t just impact achievement though. It effects motivation and interest too. Jessi Smith and her colleagues investigated interest and motivation in a computer science task under conditions where participants felt gender stereotype threats. When they suggested that women aren’t good at math and related tasks, the women in their study showed less interest for completing the tasks. Those women who were normally achievement and goal oriented also changed their motivation from striving to achieve goals to being nervous about failing, a motivation orientation that is associated with lower interest. So, when stereotypes about women are primed in science and math, it seems that interest and motivation goes down.

The central premise of this study is itself a stereotype about women: that they constantly seek romantic validation. Participating in this study itself might have primed stereotypes. I am speculating here but I would find those images to be stereotypically feminine and the whole idea of being romantically motivated to be a negatively-associated female stereotype within an academic environment (think of the derision associated with stories of women who go to university to find husbands – no such parallel exists for men). It seems at least possible to me that priming women with stereotypical romantic images in an academic setting would elicit stereotype threat, a threat that could possibly be related to decreased motivation and interest for science, another stereotypical characteristic. I’m not actually trying to make this claim, just to show that there are other possible explanations than what the authors of the study suggest.

Study 2

 This study was very similar to Study 1, except that instead of looking at pictures the participants overheard conversations that were meant to prime either romantic goals or intelligence goals. The researchers and their assistants stood in the hallway and had a short conversation that was either about doing well on a test or about a recent successful date. The study participants inside the study room could hear the conversations. The authors also did second version that used similar conversations but this time primed romantic goals and non-romantic friendship goals. The authors report that both versions replicated Study 1. Except that it isn’t quite true. In Study 1, men and women showed equal interest when they saw intelligence pictures and when men saw romantic pictures. The basic result was that women who saw romantic pictures expressed less interest than would be expected, all other things being equal. Study 2 shows something entirely different. In both versions, women and men who overheard romantic conversations expressed equal interest in science and so did the men who overheard intelligence or friendship conversations. The only difference was that women who overheard intelligence or friendship conversations showed HIGHER interest in science than would be expected. Let me say that again – women and men responded no differently to having romantic goals primed and the non-romantic goals (intelligence and friendship) led women to express stronger interest in science. When they overheard the intelligence related conversations, women also expressed stronger desire to pursue science related degrees. I don’t see how that replicates Study 1. It seems in my view to directly contradict it.

Study 3

The third study asked women (and only women) to keep track of their daily goals and their math activities (e.g., paying attention in class, doing math homework) and desirability activities (e.g., emailing/texting someone you are interested in or spending time with them). From the students’ diary entries, they found the following relationships:

  • On days that women reported pursuing romantic goals, they engaged in more romantic activities and fewer math activities. They also engaged in fewer math activities (but not more romantic activities) the day after.
  • On days that women reported pursuing academic goals (and the day after), they engaged in more math activities. These days had no impact on their romantic activities.

So, the participants in their study engaged in activities that met their goals for the day, whether academic or romantic. This isn’t a surprise at all and there is no evidence that this is gender specific because no men were included in this part of study. There is also no evidence that it is exclusive to romantic goals because no other goals were studied. It is just as conceivable that people who set interpersonal goals for the day will also engage in less math and more interpersonal activities. That kind of the point of having a goal for the day isn’t it?

But wait, there’s more:

  • On days when the women pursued romantic goals (and the day after) they also felt more romantically desirable.
  • On days when women pursued academic goals, there was no impact on their desirability (it neither increased nor decreased their feelings of desirability). Wait, what? So the whole study is built on the premise that wanting to be romantically desirable interferes with interest and participation in science but there is no evidence that feelings of desirability are in any way negatively affected by pursuing intelligence goals.

This means that the only finding from Study 3 is that activities can be predicted by daily goal setting (either romantic or intelligent).

Some final thoughts

So, what’s my overall assessment? I’m really troubled by the study, not because it disagrees with the way that I approach gender and science but because the evidence is extremely weak and seems to have been interpreted with the researchers’ own expectations heavily in play. The back and forth nature of the findings (in one study romantic goals had a negative effect and in another they didn’t) is not acknowledged and suggests to me that there is probably something else that is actually creating the effect. Not only that, it suggests that the measures (the questions themselves) are probably not stable. There is nothing in this study that convinces me that romantic goal pursuits are in any particular way responsible for women’s underrepresentation in science – not because it’s something I don’t want to be believe but because the evidence just isn’t there.

(As a side note, I’d like to add that the title of the article suggests that the authors did not spend much time with the literature related to science education persistence and participation. The title indicates that the study is about attitudes towards science, which is something entirely different from interest and not addressed at all in the study. I have also not addressed the secondary findings related to interest in English/languages because the primary claims are related to science and math.)

References and other reading

Krapp, A., & Prenzel, M. (2011). Research on interest in science: Theories, methods, and findings. International Journal of Science Education, 33, 27-50.

Park LE, Young AF, Troisi JD, & Pinkus RT (2011). Effects of everyday romantic goal pursuit on women’s attitudes toward math and science. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 37 (9), 1259-73 PMID: 21617021

Smith, J.L., Sansone, C., & White, P.H. (2007). The stereotyped task engagement process: The role of interest and achievement motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 99-114.

Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist 52, 613–629

Reflections on mourning science on December 6

“For 45 minutes on Dec. 6, 1989 an enraged gunman roamed the corridors of Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women. Marc Lepine, 25, separated the men from the women and before opening fire on the classroom of female engineering students he screamed, “I hate feminists.” Almost immediately, the Montreal Massacre became a galvanizing moment in which mourning turned into outrage about all violence against women.”

This summary from the CBC news archives describes well the horrifying incident of that day and the impact that it has had across Canada. At most Canadian universities the day is marked with candlelight gatherings and vigils for victims of violence against women. To this day, though, I’ve never been to one.

The Montreal Massacre had a profound effect on me as a young student. I was a 13 year old Grade 9 student, just beginning high school science. As a kid, I’d always been interested in science. I loved building things, digging in things, looking at critters in the dirt and lying on the deck looking at the stars. My parents aren’t involved in science in any way but they always recognized my interest and helped me explore science in any way they could. My dad and I spent many great days at science museums together. We did very little science at my elementary school though. Aside from picture books about animals (my favourite was about the lynx) my out of school experiences formed most of my earliest impressions of science. I learned that science was about curiosity and experimentation, about awestruck appreciation for the natural world. Grade 9 was my first exposure to more formal science education. I was introduced to ideas of controlled experiments and different types of evidence and learned about ecosystems. I didn’t do my homework as much as I should have but that’s beside the point I guess.

On the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre earlier this week, I tweeted “Dec 6 ’89: I was 13, it was the first time I realized that there was something different about being a girl in science”. Almost immediately after I posted it, though, the tweet didn’t feel right. I’ve been stewing about it all week to figure out why. Thinking about it brought me the further realization that I’ve never participated in any commemorative activities, ever. Even as an undergraduate engineering student (and chair of the engineering society’s Equity and Ethics Committee and representative to the local Women in Science Engineering group) I’d always avoided them. Thinking about it made me feel quite guilty – why could I not bother to attend commemorations of an event that had been profoundly affecting in my earliest experiences with formal science education.

The first answer that I came to is that they made me uncomfortable. Large gestures of public emotion aren’t my preferred venue for grieving and remembering. Given the choice, I would always opt for private reflection. But 21 years of avoidance seems a bit excessive if it were just a case of not liking public ceremonies. I have attended many Remembrance Day ceremonies in that time.

Instead, I’ve come to realize that it was the intent of the ceremonies that made me uncomfortable. I fully support those who approach the day as emblematic of violence against women and use the anniversary to draw attention to continuing violence. As a 13 year old budding scientist, however, that wasn’t how I interpreted it. Instead of seeing it through the lens of womanhood, I saw it through the lens of science. This was the first time that I realized that who you are can have a serious impact on your place in science. I don’t mean just in the social studies of science sense, where who you are influences the science that you do. Suddenly I saw that who you were as a physical body and as a person could determine whether others allowed your participation, that there could be serious consequences for not being the right type of person in someone’s eyes. This was a profoundly scary realization. It was not for the cause of women that I grieved at that time, but for science: for the science that I thought I knew, that had in my mind been a world purely of ideas and not bodies. As a result, December 6 has been for me a day for recognizing those who have been peremptorily excluded from science, those who are driven out by harassment, made to feel inadequate and not welcome just because of who they are, for those who have hidden their sexuality, changed their accents, acted differently or given up in frustration because they were not seen by someone as the right type of person – because someone told them they shouldn’t be there.

This realization has allowed me to forgive myself a little bit because, in fact, that view of the meaning of December 6 pervades everything that I do as a researcher and writer. Most of my research addresses insider/outsider boundaries, exclusion and the bodies and personalities of science. For example, I study the consequences of  stereotypes and social expectations on students’ persistence in science. The work that I do now including this blog, my research in identity, language and belonging in science education and science outreach: That’s my vigil.

Relying on stereotypes is no way to address problems in science education

File this under “be careful what you wish for”. I have argued in the past that Canada has really lacked a public conversation about science education and in particular gender issues in science education. I sort of got what I asked for. The October 20 op-ed in the Globe and Mail, written by Sumitra Rajagopalan, was entitled “We need tool-savvy teachers” and addresses the problems facing boys in science classes. And while the piece was provocative (as befits an op-ed) and did raise some very important points, it was also deeply troubling.

Rajagopalan begins by stating some real and important problems such as “one in three male Quebeckers leaving high school without a diploma.” There is no doubt that this is a problem that needs to be addressed and she brings up her own work  with underachieving teenagers in Montreal (which I whole heartedly commend her for) to illustrate the issue.

It’s at this point that, from my perspective, the problems begin. She claims that ‘feminization’ of the classroom is the main culprit. This is a provocative claim and, again, one worth exploring. The problem is that in this piece it is not explored with evidence or facts but instead with stereotypes and generalizations.

The generalizations begin with the boys themselves: “boys are born tinkerers. They have a deep-seated need to rip things apart, decode their inner workings, create stuff.” As Jen Ouellette has beautifully argued, there are so many things wrong with this statement. To begin with, we can all probably think of lots of boys that fit this description and, on the other hand, we can think of many who don’t. This claim that all boys have a particular orientation is a false and misleading one. The implication of Rajagopalan’s statement is also that girls are not like this. Again, that is a false claim – many girls are very interested in hands-on exploration (As personal evidence, I have a degree in mechanical engineering – something I chose precisely because of the opportunity for hands-on work. I have experience in welding, sand-blasting and plasma cutting.)

Beyond anecdotal thinking though, there is also no conclusive research base that ascribes these characteristics exclusively and deterministically to boys. While there are gender differences in typical learning style preferences  (and it’s important that I mean on average, not deterministically), gender is only one factor in these preferences. These preferences are also related to overall school achievement, age, culture and geographical region, information processing style, and creativity style. Hoginsfeld and Dunn (2003) found, in a study of teenage students in Bermuda, Brunei, Hungary, Sweden and New Zealand, that the differences in learning style preference between the countries was larger than any gender differences.

To offer an example related specifically to hands-on science education, as a graduate student I worked as a research assistant on a project looking at students’ responses to a science education program that visited their classrooms. One part of the study involved a survey of approximately 700 Grade 9 students from two large Ontario school boards (including inner city and suburban schools). Girls and boys responded in almost equal numbers that they enjoyed science generally and that they appreciated the hands-on nature of the outreach program. Girls in fact responded significantly more often that the program provided positive hands-on experiences that they did not usually experience.

But instead of looking at this evidence and offering a thoughtful consideration of the problems facing boys who drop out of high school, Rajagopalan relies on stereotype, saying that boys are just like this, it’s a fact.

To me, however, the even more troubling and even less supported generalizations are regarding science and math teachers. Rajagopalan writes “Enter today’s typical math/science teacher. She’s young and female with a social sciences background. She went through high school believing that ‘math sucks’ and ‘science is for geeks.’ Like most girls, she’s never held a wrench.”

This statement is just untrue. The recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2007) directly contradicts her characterisation (one that I might add seems steeped in unexplained contempt for these teachers). In a sample selected to be representative of provincial norms, in Quebec grade 8 students’ science teachers are almost exactly balanced by gender: 52% of students in the study had female science teachers, 48% had male teachers. The average Quebec math and science teacher also had 9 years of teaching experience. Ontario and British Columbia (the only other provinces for which the data are available) are very similar in both gender balance (ON: 55% F and 45% M, BC: 46% F and 54% M) and average experience (ON: 9 years, BC: 13 years). In Quebec, most grade 8 students also have teachers whose major area of post-secondary education is either science, mathematics, or science education. For example 69% of students have teachers with full undergraduate degrees majoring in biology, physics, chemistry or earth science, 10% in pure mathematics. More than that, 61% of Quebec students have teachers who feel “very well prepared” to teach every topic included in the TIMSS assessment, meaning they are confident in their abilities across the board, from reproductive biology to mechanics. Do I wish that some of these numbers were higher? Yes, of course.  Are there some content areas, such as climate science and engineering, where teachers are not well prepared? Yes. But does the evidence support Rajagopalan’s accusations of a horde of female teachers who are scared of science? – Absolutely not.

Science and math teachers in Canada regardless of their gender did not go through high school thinking that math sucks and science is for geeks and I cannot fathom the author’s reasons for saying that they do. Characterizing women’s views about science and math in this way reinforces the exact stereotypes that can cause female students to underperform in math.

The teachers that Rajagopalan is talking about went through high school liking science and math, wanting to study it in university – and that’s exactly what they did. Canadian science and math teachers are, for the most part, highly qualified to teach science and math. They have backgrounds in science and math content areas and certification in science and math teaching. Yes, there are areas where recruiting qualified teachers is challenging. This is especially true in language minority school settings (Anglophone schools in Quebec and Francophone schools in other provinces and territories) and in northern schools. But overall this in not what characterises science and mathematics education in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

Rajagopalan is playing with gender stereotypes rather than evidence.  I would like to ask her if she would accept unsupported assumptions passed off as informed opinion in her area of science – if the answer is no (and I suspect that it is), then why is it okay to talk about science education in this way? There are issues to deal with but relying on scare tactics and tired stereotypes is no way to address them.


Hoginsfeld, A., & Dunn, R. (2003). High school male and female learning-style similarities and differences in diverse nations. The Journal of Educational Research, 96, 195 – 206.

Pedretti, E., Baker, L., De Coito, I. & Shanahan, M.-C. (2007). Scientists in school impact study. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, Centre for Science, Mathematics and Technology Education.

Spencer, S.J., Steele, C.M., & Quinn, D.M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.

Note that this post was updated from its original form. The references to Spencer, Steele and Quinn (1999) and Hoginsfeld and Dunn (2003) were added.