There are two children in my life (well, there are three, actually – maths was never my strong point – but for the purpose of this post, let’s talk about the two).
The first is my stepdaughter. Beautiful, bright, creative, she spends many of her evenings reading, drawing and dreaming about the day she’ll become a multi-billionaire actress or film director.
She writes little film scripts,
cajoles encourages her little brothers into starring roles, then uploads said movies onto our computer and edits them. The world inside her head is all fantasy. There is no logic or timelines, just a bunch of tangents to wander off to and explore.
She looks at the stars and wonders how she can be a star too!
For her, maths is (she says) both difficult and pointless. “I’m not going to need it when I grow up because I’m going to be rich and famous,” she says.
“But how are you going to count all your money?” I reply.
And then there is my oldest son, for whom the pleasure of reading is nothing short of torture, but who can recite his times tables without blinking. His inner world is about order. Problems and solutions. Logic. A mini Mr Spock.
He looks at the stars and wonders how many there are and how to get there.
Is this a left-brain, right-brain thing? Or is it something to do with gender? Are these micro examples epitomous of a wider macro situation? Is it because of upbringing?
Have we brought up our girl to be flighty and creative and our boy to be ordered and and problem-solving? In other words, are we sexist parents? Have we subliminally conditioned our children to fall into gender stereoptypes in which girls do arty stuff and boys so sciencey stuff? Or is it simply to do with personality types?
These questions are at the heart of this sponsored post, for it is a fact that girls do not pursue an absolute subject like physics, whereas boys do.
Why? Because we – as parents – don’t encourage them to do so? Or are teachers’ attitudes to blame? Or is it more ‘nature’ than that?
According to the Institute of Physics girls do not pursue physics as a subject for a variety of reasons – one of which is that it is seen as a boys’ thing.
There are some sad statistics that demonstrate the sorry state of affairs in terms of girls and physics:
• Forty nine per cent of co-ed schools sent no girls onto A level physics in 2011. The figure for all secondary schools is 46 per cent.
• Girls are almost 2.5 times more likely to go on to do A level physics if they came from a girls’ school rather than a co-ed school (for all types of maintained schools in England).
• Twice the percentage of girls who go on to do A level physics came from schools that teach at key stage 4 and 5 in comparison to schools that only teach up to the end of Key Stage 4.
I asked my 10-year-old stepdaughter if this was true? Was SHE interested in physics? Her reply: “No. Boys do that.” Hmm. Conundrum. A problem to be solved.
My stepdaughter’s and other girls’ lack of interest in physics needs to be addressed, says the IoP.
That’s why this week it has launched a campaign to promote physics to young girls.
‘It’s Different for Girls’ gives parents and teachers everything they need to know about the problem and how we can all address it.
So why is it important that girls learn physics? Well, on a global platform we need this skillset in the UK, but on a more personal note they are missing out on all sorts of career paths.
Doing physics at A-level and beyond doesn’t mean you’ll end up as a lab coated physicist. Far from it! This sponsored post is about why we should be encouraging girls to consider it and what they are missing out on. How to get girls engaged from an early age is all included in the documents which I have attached.
So what can we parents do to encourage our daughters to show an interest in physics.
Well, a good start would be to show them the inspiring women who star in the videos on this post.
They feature a professional poker player, a masterchef finalist and a professional gymnast – all of whom use their physics background to aid them in their day jobs (and they are all women of course).
You can also get lots of useful help and advice on the Institute of Physics website, where there are a variety of information packs, including:
4 WAYS TO GET YOUR CHILDREN INTO PHYSICS
1) Challenge Stereotypes
As a society we deal in the cultural shorthand of stereotypes, often accepting and perpetuating them without thinking. We see them clearly in many media representations of scientists as male, mad professors with brains the size of planets but no social skills.
• Help your daughter or son to understand gender stereotypes and how they are perpetuated and used in the media, so that they can explicitly challenge them.
• Try not to use stereotypes yourself and challenge those that you come across. Create a Positive Physics Environment A key influence on young people’s attitudes to physics is self-concept – their sense of themselves in relation to the subject. By encouraging a positive physics environment at home, your children will be able to see themselves doing, and enjoying, physics more easily.
•Avoid comments like “I was terrible at physics at school”, “you have to be really clever to do physics” or “I can’t understand physics”.
• Watch science programmes, such as the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory, with your daughter or son and make positive comments about what you’re seeing, encourage your children to talk about science with you.
2) Add Some Physics To Your Family Days Out
You may associate physics with school, but there are plenty of leisure activities that take the subject out of an academic setting and allow you to experience physics in different ways.
• See what your local science and discovery centre has to offer www.sciencecentres.org.uk/centres
• Many towns have science festivals offering events not just for children and families, but adults as well www.sciencecentres.org.uk/events/science_festivals.html
3) Question Potential Schools
Differences in teaching and school culture are significant factors in determining how successful a school is in sending girls on to do A-level physics. So when choosing a secondary school for your daughter or son, ask:
•Whether the school considers gender equity and access to all subjects.
•How many girls are studying A-level physics – this will be a good indicator of the quality of physics teaching across the school. •In a co-educational school, what proportion of girls study A-level physics – the current national average is around 20 per cent.
4) Encourage Physics-based Career Aspirations
Parents can be very influential when it comes to career aspirations, but girls in particular tend to have limited knowledge and understanding of how their choices influence pay and progression routes.
• With your daughter or son, use websites such as www.physics.org, www.futuremorph.org and www.theukrc.org/wise to explore the range of careers that are open to people with physics qualifications.
Give it a whirl and perhaps in a few years time we’ll have bred a new generation of Brianess Coxes!
• This is a sponsored post, but what a great and worthwhile message, eh?