LISA : OK, Greg, so I finally managed to read the article you mentioned – the one about the study on gender in physics.

GREG : About the study of college students done by Akira Miyake and his team? Yeah,

I was interested that the researchers were actually a mix of psychologist and physicists. That’s an unusual combination.


LISA : Yeah. I got a little confused at first about which students the study was based on. They weren’t actually majoring in physics – they were majoring in what’s know as the STEM discipline. Q21That’s science, technology, engineering and…

GREG :  ….and math. Yes, but they were all doing physics course as part of their studies.

LISA : That’s correct. So as i understood it, Miyake and co started from the fact that women are underrepresented in introductory physics course at college, and also that on average, the women who do enroll on these course perform more poorly than the men.No one really knows why this is the case.

GREG : Q22 Yeah. But what the researchers wanted to find out was basically what they could do about the relatively low level of the women’s results. But in order to find a solution they needed to find out more about the nature of the problem.

LISA : Right – now let’s see if I can remember …it was that in the physics class, the female students thought the male student all assumed that women weren’t any good at physics… was that it? And they thought that the men expected them to get poor result in their tests.

GREG : That’s what the women thought, and that made them nervous, so they get poor results. Q23 But actually they were wrong…NO one was making any assumptions about the female students at all.

LISA : Anyway, what Miyake’s team did was quite simple- getting the student to do some writing before they went into the physics class. What did they call it?

GREG : Values- affirmation –Q24 they had to write an essay focusing on things that were significant to them, not particularly to do with the subject, but more general things like music, or people who mattered to them.

LISA : Right, So the idea of doing the writing is that this gets the student thinking in a positive way.

GREG : Q25 And cutting these thoughts into words can relax them and help them overcome the psychological factors that to poor performance. Yeah, Q26 But what the researchers int study had’t expected was that this one activity raised the women’s physics grade from the C to the B range.

LISA : A huge change. Pity, it wasn’t to an A, but still! No, but it does suggest that the women were seriously under performing beforehand, in comparison with the men.

GREG : Yes. Mind you, Miyake’s article left out a lot of details. Like, did the student do the writing just once, or several times? Q27 And had they been told why they were doing the writing? That might have affected the result.

LISA : YOU mean, if they know the researchers thought it might help them to improve, then they’d just try to full fill that expectation?

GREG : Exactly. So anyway,I thought for our projects we could do similar study but investigate whether it really was the writing activity that had that result.

LISA : Ok . So we could ask them to do a writing task about something completely different …. something else, like an oral task.

GREG : Maybe… or we could have half the student doing a writing task and half doing something else, like an oral task.

LISA : Or even, Q28 half do the same writing as the original research and half do a factual writing task. Then we’d see if it really is the topic that made the difference,or something else.

GREG : That’s it. Good. So at our meeting with the supervisor on Monday, we can tell him we’ve decided on our project. We should have our aims ready by then.I suppose we need to read the original study- the article’s just a summary.

LISA : And there was another article I read, by Smolinsky. It was about her research on how women and men perform in mixed teams in class, compared with single-sex terms and on their own.

GREG : Let me guess… the women were better at teamwork.

LISA : That’s what I expected, but actually Q29 the men and the women got the same results whether they were working in a team or on their own. But I guess it’s not that relevant to us.

GREG : What worries me anyway is how we’re going to get everything done in the time.

LISA : We’ll be OK now we know what we’re doing to get. Thought I’m not clear hoe we assess whether the students in our experiments actually make any progress or not…

GREG : No. We may need some advice on that. The main thing’s to make sure we have the right size sample, not to big or too small.

LISA : That shouldn’t be difficult. Right, what we need to do next? We could have look at the timetable for the science classes… or perhaps Q30 we should just make an appointment to see one of the science professors. That’d be better.

GREG : Great. And we could even get to observe one of the classes.

LISA : What for?

GREG : Well…OK maybe let’s just go with your idea. Right, well…

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