Lost In Translation “Gender and High School Computer Science” – Goode J, Estrella R, & Margolis J – 2006

Lost In Translation “Gender and High School Computer Science” – Goode J, Estrella R, & Margolis J – 2006

(Chapter 3 of Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation – Joanne Cohoon and William Aspray)

Sue Sentance suggested several research papers to me, and this was by far the most useful.

“This chapter presents four themes that suggest some reasons why and how high school female students are — or are not — drawn into the field of computer science through their high school experiences. First, despite the national and local initiatives to “bring schools into the twenty-first century,” researchers discovered that few computer science learning opportunities actually exist at the high school level, especially in schools that serve communities of colour.  Second, they found that notions of relevance play a key role in influencing females’ choices to enrol or not enrol in computer science classes.   A limited and narrow presentation of what computer science is as well as what computer scientists actually do impacts students’ take on how computer science could further their academic and career endeavours. Third, for the female students who do take computer science, researchers observed an accumulation of negative experiences in classroom settings, where greater male technology experience/expertise and female social isolation and insecurity are part of the cultural landscape. Fourth, all of these experiences are then compounded by the way that computer science is motivated and “interpreted” for the students”.

Here are my observations on these findings for me and my CS students.

Theme 1.  Too much computer literacy taught and we need to make links with other subjects.  Well, getting rid of ICT and the introduction of Computer Science has sorted that one. And I work regularly with the Maths department and have already used learning walks to observe how they differentiate and run mixed ability KS3 lessons. Next step(s): Work with the maths department to look at more maths being talked with computer science in year 7 and in future at A-level.

2.  We need relevance –  what is Computer Science and what do Computer scientists do? We need to create learning pathways for non-traditional students. How can Computer Science further their academic and career  endeavours.  p.22.  All too often CS decontextualised and robbed of connections that interest women. I am already addressing this in part –  See my Year 9 options evening presentation and Inspirational Videos starting with Computer science is changing everything.  Next step(s): More videos and discussion

3.  Negative experiences in classroom – greater male experience and a degree of female insecurity/lack of confidence in their own abilities.  Importance of play, experimentation and social networks to support Computer Science learning.   A great deal of this is down to the quality of teaching and the openness of teachers to be aware of the inbuilt inequalities in their classes.  Most of my efforts this term have been to address these issues.  Starting with a seating plan where I asked the girls where they would be most comfortable and choosing their paired programme partners.  Making sure that I provide appropriate differentiation ( regardless of gender and of course) but always with stretch targets.  The reason that several of the girls chose computer science this year was because I promised that they would definitely be challenged.  They, in some cases, find that they are not challenged enough.  I’ve also gone to some lengths to show how experience of computer science will help them in other stem subjects.  Next step(s):  really important that I do a Google form to find out about the social network support; if uncomfortable with partners; and their access to relevant hardware and software at home.

4.   Match problems to higher order maths abilities.  This struck me as particularly relevant, as I see a lot of the python activities available at KS3 are to do with simple measurements etc to match the Python skills needing to be developed, but not matching the maths skills of the brighter students.  Next step(s):  review our current KS3 activities.  As for p.21, give more opportunities to find own problems and specify parameters.

Additional findings:

p.12.   Next step(s):  encourage idea of working in groups and alternative approaches.

p.14.  Reasons for choosing and sticking with Computer Science.  Interested / intrigued with creativity and intense sense of accomplishment when solving problems. Love of problem solving and logical reasoning as reasons to continue.  A Computer Science course needs to ‘buy’ them enough academically, especially bright STEM girls. They value creativity and purpose but there are not always links with Computer Science.  See themes 2 and 3 above.

Overall, having read a variety of research papers, I want to say here that most of the changes to my practice that will come about as a result of the points above will be for all my students.  Although this particular paper points out that girls benefit from seeing a broader picture for computer scientists and what they do, this of course applies to all my students as far as I see, and this will largely be my motivation for improving my practice.

To do list:
Need more up-to-date sources.