Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy 1993-94 Calculus-Based Physics/Mechanics
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Located in Aurora, Illinois, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
(IMSA) is the state's public residential high school for talented mathematics
and science students, and an educational laboratory for designing and testing
innovative programs and strategies to share with other schools, teachers
and students in Illinois and beyond.
In February 1994, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA)
was featured in USA Weekend and on NBC-TV's Dateline in reports
on gender equity in education. The reports centered on the work of David
and Myra Sadker, professors of education at American University. The Sadkers'
new book, Failing at Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls,
was published in February.
The February 4-6 USA Weekend, the nationwide weekend newspaper
insert, cited IMSA in a cover story by the Sadkers. Three IMSA students
were pictured on the cover. The Dateline report by anchorwoman Jane Pauley
aired February 8.
Both reports featured IMSA's calculus-based physics/mechanics course,
one section of which was all girls for the fall semester of the 1993-94
school year. The all-girls section was part of the first phase of a year-long
study designed to learn more about how student-teacher, student-student,
and student-content interaction influence learning. Three coed sections
of the same course also were offered. Girls had the option of enrolling
in the single-gender section or coed section. Thirteen girls enrolled in
the single-gender section first semester, and a total of 11 enrolled in
the coed sections. Course content, expectations and exams were the same
for all sections. However, by design the learning environment in the all-girls
section was different.
For second semester (phase two of the study), all sections of the course
The research design employed is a qualitative, interpretive study. Structured
hypotheses have not been delineated. Rather, data are collected across
a variety of variables, and we anticipate that an analysis of these data
will inform a more experimental research design. Student questionnaires/surveys,
process observations by an educational researcher, test/exam performance,
and reflective journals completed by teachers are among the data that will
The single-gender dimension of the study represents a transition from
the idea of equal educational opportunity to one grounded in a belief in
equal educational outcomes. This shift allows for differential treatment
of a group to enable its members to attain outcomes similar to the dominant
culture. It addresses the "Catch 22" of the equal treatment argument and
represents a movement beyond equality toward equity.
Even at IMSA, where all students--girls and boys--have demonstrated exceptional
talent in mathematics and science as part of the Academy's competitive
admissions process, some of the national trends are still apparent. For
example, IMSA girls have enrolled in and completed certain high-level mathematics
and science electives less frequently than their male classmates.
The decision to initiate the calculus-based physics/mechanics study was
based on several factors, including: (1) evidence that some of the national
trends were apparent at IMSA; (2) faculty and staff members' desire to
learn more about how the teaching and learning environment at IMSA both
supports and inhibits girls; (3) a belief that the Academy's mission to
transform teaching and learning in mathematics and science cannot be met
without tackling gender issues head-on; (4) extensive review of the well-documented
research on masculine bias in science education and discourse; and (5)
comments and recommendation from IMSA students.
At this time, the Academy does not view single-gender classes as the
most appropriate long term 'solution,' and there are no plans to offer
single-gender classes next year (1994-95). Decisions beyond that will be
based on a number of factors, including the results of this year's study.
Opinions on this study among IMSA faculty, staff students and parents
vary considerably. Some who oppose the idea of single-gender classes nevertheless
support the study for what our community may be able to learn from it.
The Academy believes the study will inform our efforts to provide the most
appropriate learning environment for all students--both girls and boys--in
the future. We acknowledge the controversial nature of the study, but we
believe it is in keeping with the spirit of inquiry and research characteristic
of an educational laboratory.
Further information is available over the
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy 1993-94 Calculus-based Physics
Summary of Major Findings
Click for other sections: Background and Interpretations
- More females enrolled in and successfully completed Calculus-based
Physics: Mechanics (first semester course) than ever before. More females
enrolled in and successfully completed Calculus-based Physics: Electricity/Magnetism
(second semester course) than ever before.
- Females in the single-gender section of Calculus-based Physics: Mechanics
demonstrated significantly higher gains in self-confidence than did females
in the coed sections.
- Prior mathematical power as measured by the PSAT-M exam accounted
for differences in achievement levels for females on the Calculus-based
Physics: Mechanics final exam. However, this prior mathematical power
was not a significant factor on achievement levels among females in Calculus-based
Physics: Electricity/Magnetism. While the PSAT-M was a strong predictor
of first semester final exam performance, this predictive power vanished
for second semester final exam performance.
- There was a strikingly different quality to the atmosphere, character
and climate of the all-female class. The learning community which emerged
was characterized by: a profound sense of responsibility for learning--for
one's own learning and for each others' learning, for seeking and giving
help; a special rapport between and among the teacher and the students
which enabled frequent free and open discussions about physics, past
and current experiences, feelings, frustrations, etc.; a spirit of co-learning,
with both the teacher and the students feeling free to ask questions,
admit mistakes, take risks, express confusion, etc. strong student influence
on classroom dynamics which enabled the teacher to be more in tune with,
drawn in by and responsive to student behaviors and needs.
The teacher, who has taught science for 20 years at the high school and college
levels, reported that these characteristics were more pervasive in the all-female
class than in any other class he has taught.
- Students in the all-female class displayed greater performance-level
growth on quizzes, homework and class exams than did females in the coed
section taught by the same teacher. Initially the females in the two
classes performed about the same on in-class assignments. As the semester
continued, females in the single- gender section performed better. Their
growth was most evident in the areas of problem analysis and problem-solving.
- In the all-female class, the teacher increasingly re-examined and
modified his repertoire of teaching strategies, enabling students to
acquire real-world physics- related experiences which are fundamental
to a deeper understanding of advanced physics.
Summary of Major Interpretations
Click for other sections: Background and Findings
- The classroom ethos (distinguishing character/climate) of the all-female
class and changes in teacher behavior (both planned and emergent changes)
seemed to have the most dramatic effect on student learning. Enabled
by the teacher at the outset, the classroom ethos was mutually constructed
over time by the learners and the teacher. Data indicate that some females
and some in the coed sections prefer and likely would be better served
by a classroom ethos similar to the one that was constructed in the all-female
- While the all-female section was beneficial for most, the classroom
ethos of the all-female section and/or the single-gender dimension itself
did not serve all learners equally well. A few students in the all-female
class did not like one or both of these factors and did not consider
their experiences to be successful. Similarly, some females in the coed
sections liked the coed environment and/or the classroom ethos of their
particular sections, and considered their experiences to be successful.
For more information, contact:
Catherine C. Veal
Director of Communications
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
1500 West Sullivan Road
Aurora, IL 60506-1000
Phone: (708) 907-5034
FAX: (708) 907-5062