View Lessons by Subject > Science > Gender Consciousness
(Biology): Wow...ok I will give this a try...One of the lessons that students come back years later and mention is one on reproduction. Handling the delicate balance of a male in a Biology class of all ninth grade girls and having to talk about sperms, eggs, having your period, menstruation and pregnancy all in a few lectures can be challenging. I find that the girls know very little about the biology of all of this despite the media saturation they have been exposed to. A simple question such as during what part of your monthly cycle are you most likely to get pregnant yields less that 20% correct responses. To accomplish the lesson, I first draw the basic female reproductive anatomy on board showing only ovaries, oviduct and uterus...leaving cervix and vagina to work in later. I then set my class room up as a large model of this anatomy. The portion in front of the desks representing the oviduct, to the left and empty chair representing the ovary the right the isle representing the uterus, and the classroom wall the uterus wall. I then take on the role of the egg giving an animated motion of being ovulated as I pop out of the chair...I work my way down the oviduct moving slowly as I talk explaining how variations in egg transport mechanisms in oviduct can impact fertility ...having not met any sperms on my journey, I then proceed out the uterus. Making the point of being able to grab on to the uterus as a way to save myself...but without being fertilized and going through the steps of cleavage...I am not developed to grab on...I repeat these steps covering all the variations of timing of intercourse and ovulation ...acting out what happens to the egg in each case...including attempting burrowing into the classroom to simulate impregnation of the egg (pregnancy). By the end of the lesson we draw a bell curve of likelihood of becoming pregnant during any time during the monthly cycle and review all of the science behind the timing of the rise and fall of the curve.
One classroom experience that I felt especially engaged in was in an elective that I took for WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) program at our school in my junior year. The class was called Projectiles. The day that I especially liked was when I was working with my partner on our 5-foot tall trebuchet that we would design to launch the furthest pumpkin as possible for a competition. Our teacher taught us on that day how to use the drill without puncturing a hole on any organ parts of our body. We were wearing goggles, measuring out inches, feet, and angles. There was sawdust everywhere and there was a fluster of activities that was fun and very engaging. I remember my partner and I especially had trouble without angle measurement, and we ended up having to redraw and revised our models several times. But we were enthusiastic. We felt like we were 6-year old kids building houses with logos and cards. Except at that time we were experimenting with professional tools and making a potentially destructive machinery.

It was a hands-on classroom experience like this that made me feel this is all what being in an all-girl environment is about. We can build and break things. We can map out plans, calculate measurements down to the hair, imagine and create according to whatever we envisioned, and not be underestimate because we are girls.
(Biology): In my introductory Biology class, I give a group-based project that has many components. The project is centered on ethical scientific issues, which we call “genethics.” The girls are broken into small groups that focus on one issue. Girls like to work in small groups and often find the dynamics stimulating. After the group work is complete, the girls engage in a debate in front of the rest of the class. It is important to give girls plenty of chances to further their public speaking skills and this is easily facilitated in an environment where there is familiarity and not intimidation. Young girls speaking to girls tend to be more comfortable than to a co-educational audience. As their confidence in public speaking grows, they will be able to adapt to mixed audiences in the future. The girls are interested and engaged in the contemporary nature of the topic and thrive in collaborative units. Though some are apprehensive about speaking in front of others, they soon realize that the safety and warmth of the all-girl classroom provides a sense of security and helps to build confidence.
(Technology): This year I have ventured to new territory with my seventh-grade girls by allowing them to select, research, and present an advanced topic in Microsoft Word. Instead of me teaching them these advanced skills, I allowed them to select their own topic and a method to teach their topic. The girls initially struggled with how to research their topics, even though I had given them links to support their various topics. However, once they started experimenting (which I encouraged them to do) they took off and excelled. The final products have come back and are over and beyond my expectations. While each of them has become an “expert” in their specific topic, they have all gained more knowledge and skills from each other. This type of practice supports girls stepping out of their comfort zone and learning to be risk takers and experiment with new topics. With STEM becoming such a big part of today’s education, girls need to be willing to step out of their comfort zones and experiment and/or try new topics and subjects. They need to learn to be risk-takers while being able to be investigators and open-minded learners.
As a science teacher, I firmly believe that when students can get their “hands dirty” they will learn better. To accomplish those ends, hands on activities are particularly important in the sciences. I love projects that cause students to step outside their comfort zone, like when shooting air powered rockets across the soccer field, or building bridges that we compete to see whose can support the most weight. Projects that might be considered “boy-centered” are often the projects that students become most excited about, simply because they have never been asked to do something like it before. When launching rockets, students were active, running across the soccer field, and feeling a sense of physical accomplishment when successfully launching a tough rocket.