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domingo, 8 de febrero de 2015

SURPRISE ! No change in the gender gap for science careers (2004-2014)

I received an email from my advisor today sharing a link and saying we had some sad statistics to cite in future papers.  The study was was done by the National Student Clearinghouse Research center and it is called: Science & Engineering Degree Attainment: 2004-2014
The tagline for the study was: "From 2004 to 2014, science and engineering degrees increased in prevalence for both genders. The trend was driven by growth in the so-called hard sciences."
However by looking at the results you can get to a really sad picture of what it means to be a woman in STEM careers.

Let´s look at the big picture first
Source: The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

This picture shows that the gender distribution remained the same from 2004-2014. Many people would look at this graph and say we have reached equality in higher ed. It´s not 50-50 but definetly one could not say women are unrepresented at the doctoral level.

However, as the study says the picture changes a lot when you look at the specific disciplines

Source: The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

There is a significant drop at the bachelor level in Computer Science, for example. Again remember this data comprises 10 years !! Either we have not accomplished anything for 10 years or we have made it worse !!

                                           Source: The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

This is exactly the kind of graph that people against doing something about the gender gap in STEM careers loves to cite. "Well women are not underrepresented in the social sciences nor biology. Is because women like animals and nurturing stuff." I have seen this argument cited on papers many many times. Specially on papers studying career interest at the middle school level. However as someone part of STEM desertion statistic I can say I am not doing research on learning sciences because I couldn´t help my biological predisposition to do nurturing stuff. I am doing this because I lived first hand the kind of obstacles women and girls live everyday when trying to pursue STEM careers of any type. I wanted to do something about it and here I am.

I am part of those numbers and I know is beyond women been more naturally nurturing. Is because the gender gap at elementary school just keeps getting bigger and bigger because at every step girls and women don't have enough support to keep going.  A simple but strong example is the #likeagirl ad in the Super Bowl.

This study shows us something beyond a gender gap. This is more than a sad/impressive statistic of how number are dropping or not even moving. Anybody looking at the numbers knows this means so much for multiple decades of research and intervention programs. But most importantly !! WE HAVE TO TRY DIFFERENT THINGS! WE HAVE TO START LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM! Because it exists! But whatever we have been doing is not working.

sábado, 10 de enero de 2015

Inclusion in Science Education

It´s been a long time since I write a poset here. Moving to the United States and starting a Ph.D program kept me busy. Now with 2015 starting I am taking the opportunity to re-start writing and to give a little different focus on the blog.

This blog started to narrate my experiences as a middle school chemistry teacher in Mexico. The experience was wonderful and made me realize how much I wanted to learn about research in education and how to improve science education. I am currently enrolled in a Ph.D in Learning Sciences and Policy program a big change coming from the physical sciences and something that has made me rethinking my identity in a lot of ways (If you are interested in this road towards a researcher identity and what is like to move from the physical sciences to the social sciences look here. I am keeping a separate blog for this purpose because my mind still has trouble wrapping around my two identities). Currently my research project is focused on identifying the factors that make middle school children want or not a future career in science, this project is part of the National Activation Lab (Important to say any views presented her do not represent the ones of my employer, advisor, university, etc). This blog will still focus on ways to improve education in chemistry and how to avoid chemophobia however,  I will start blogging also about education in STEM in general.

This semester I am taking a class called "Design of Educational Systems" with the objective of learning how to design instruction for education purposes. In this class we are assigned to teams and that team to a real life client. My client (which will remain anonymous for this and future posts on the topic) is a teacher that wants us to design instruction for a high school biology classroom. the syllabus has a lot of things related to chemistry: energy, mass, DNA, cycles and photosynthesis. The interesting thing about this project is that this classroom has a significant number of special ed students (the two other members of the team are special ed researcher, meaning I am the "science ed expert" of the team). The topic of inclusion is very on vogue right now in the United States and there is a lot of research on its pros and cons (For a review see here), the topic is also very controversial. The review I cited was found the following things in the literature:

"(a) the impact of inclusion programs on the academic performance and social development of students with disabilities has been mixed; (b) the placement of students without disabilities in inclusion programs does not appear to interfere with their academic performance and has several social benefits for these students; and (c) teachers' responses to inclusion programs are complex, are shaped by multiple variables, and change over time." (Salend & Garrick 1999)
Though this review was written 15 years ago lots of the things mentioned are still relevant. Despite the large body of research on inclusion there is little related to special ed in science education. One of the reasons for this is that special education encompasses an umbrella of things that can go from autism to learning disabilities to blindness to ADHD. This makes research on the topic and instruction difficult because two different kids labeled as "special education" can have totally different needs in the classroom.

I decided to try to participate in the debate doing a series of posts on my experience developing this specific type of instruction. Because of IRB and ethics I can´t give really specific details about some things but I can definitely talk about my reflections and learning of the process. I hope with this any teacher that stumbles into my blog can read something that might help him support these kids in a better way. I also intend to help start a discussion among people who do research in science about a topic that is not really talked about. We usually talk about autism when complaining about antivaxers. And we talk about improving scientific literacy to avoid chemophobia in the general population. I think we can also talk about how these kids that have a totally different perception and experiences in this world learn and perceive science. I think we can learn from them better ways to become as scientists closer to society.

Thanks for reading and see you readers soon ! 

lunes, 21 de julio de 2014

Ethics in the Science Classroom

I can only talk about what I've seen in my country (Mexico), here there's no talk about ethics associated with the behavior or effects of science in society. If the children are by some chance in private school chances are the school it's going to be catholic so yes there'll be some talk about values but never associated with science class.

The problem I see with this is, besides the obvious one of not having ethical grown ups, is that science is not seen as something social. And recently a horrid piece in the Telegraph brought me back to this thoughts.

First of all the article talks about why girls don't like science, according to the author and I quote: "I also think he’s probably right in suggesting that females, as a whole, are not hugely engaged by science. The problem with science is that, for all its wonders, it lacks narrative and story-line. Science (and maths) is about facts, and the laboratory testing of elements. It is not primarily about people. Women – broadly speaking – are drawn to the human factor: to story, biography, psychology and language."

But science is SOCIAL, science it's not only about the facts it's also about the impacts of those facts. Maybe there was a time when we could make science and let others worry about the impacts of our discoveries, think Hiroshima and Nagasaki (When the decision of dropping the atomic bomb was made Oppenheimer thought they as scientists didn't have enough information to take the decision it was something that should have been left to the military experts, of course after Hiroshima and Nagasaki he changed his mind but that's another story). Another example are the Thalidomide babies, though in this case the effects were not foreseen and when we realized what was happening it was too late for some people.

There's a lack of discussion in the science classroom about the times science has been wrong, about when science should have done better, and when scientists should have been better men and women. I believe one of the many problems we have with getting the public's trust has to do with the fact that people don't know when is right to believe what we are saying. And maybe the fact that we are always presenting science in the classroom as an absolute truth, to later on hear that a study was falsified by some scientist can be one of the many reasons general public distrust science. How can they really know this time is for sure and we are deliberately not lying for grant money, or media or anything else?
Can it be that sometimes people feel betrayed by us?

But there's also another feature of ethics in science classroom that we don't talk about and that is the values of the scientists, well a more appropriate word would be ethics. How can we expect to have scientists with strong ethics if we never ever mention it. To this point in my life (before being admitted to a PhD program in the US) I've never had a values/ethics lesson associated with my career. The closest thing I ever had were my organic chemistry lab teachers asking me to report the real yield of my experiments in class. Now that I am about to start a PhD the closest thing I've had are ethics trough online modules. Again I cannot talk about the education given in the US. But the more I spend time with teenagers, the more is obvious for that the changes in their education that we don't make today, will be very hard changes to do in the future when they are grown up.

domingo, 13 de julio de 2014

How to discourage the few women that choose STEM careers.

I am not going to pretend I know a lot about Richard Feynman. Yes I knew he was one of the major contributors and figures of modern physics. And yes I have heard he was kind of sexist that's it. So this is not going to be a post about him, rather a post about things that came to my mind while reading all the activity on my Twitter TL the last few days. This was specially inspired after reading Janet D. Stemwedel'sHeroes, human “foibles”, and science outreach.

There's a lot of discussion about how very few women chose STEM careers. People like +DN Lee are great advocates about what we can do to keep girls interested in science through their middle school and high school years. There is no way to deny that we have a lot of work on this front and there are still way to many things we can do to change the constant discouraging of young girls towards STEM careers.  But I want to dedicate this post to the women that DID CHOSE A STEM CAREER. 

As I mentioned in my last post I don't come exactly from the kind of background that promoted a science career. Despite that, I studied Chemical Engineering and even though I had several discouraging experiences with the opposite sex I kept telling myself that was not the REAL SCIENCE WORLD it was just my bad luck that I happened to meet bad men that happened to be scientists. But the more I read on twitter and experience academia the more I have to admit it IS THE REAL SCIENCE WORLD and that is time to speak up. Maybe the more of us that tell our stories the more people will realize we haven't made that much of a breakthrough regarding leaving sexism as just a part of society's past. 

There was a professor at college that the first day of class chose two people. The most beautiful girl in the classroom and the ugliest guy. The beautiful girl would be called  "Miss Chalk" for the rest of the semester and the ugly guy "Mr. Eraser", also the girl would get an A+ no matter what she did the rest of the semester and they guy would have to run errands and erase the blackboard the rest of the semester. The professor's logic behind this, as he explained semester after semester at his class, was that on the one hand the girl was beautiful and therefore all her life she would get ahead and get benefits wether she deserved it or not just because she was beautiful. On the other hand the guy was so ugly that he will have to struggle the rest of his life even if he was smart and good. I did not take class with this professor but my experiences were not better than Miss Chalk. 

I happen to have a C on Physics I, the reason was that the professor I had always gave women C's and only if AND ONLY IF you begged, flirt or wore a mini skirt he changed your grade to an A. So he abused his position of power to boost his ego. I also had a professor that once told me I was too pretty to study a SMART CAREER that was only for ugly girls I shouldn't try so hard. During a group project our male classmates asked my friend and I to wear a miniskirt or really tight leggings the day of the presentation so the professor would give an A to the whole team. Needless to say that the opinions we had during the development of the project weren't taken in account and they only wanted us on their team to give the final presentation. Finally once I came to class and one of my male classmates told me I got the classroom wrong that was a engineer's class and I certainly didn't belong there.

I got trough all that with my head high. It was Mexico, a traditionally macho country. It was an engineer major there has always been a struggle for women to prove they are worthy engineers I just had to hold on to and someone would notice I was truly good not just a pretty face. But semester after semester the amount of girls that stayed engineers diminished. 

Suddenly it happened, I started working for a PI that gave a damn, that treated me seriously and that seemed to look beyond my face. Long story short to this day after I found out he had a romantic interest (if we can call it that) in me I don't know if he accepted me in his group because I was smart and good or because from the very beginning he thought he could get into my pants. And that is the real problem.

I said no, he didn't treated me bad, he didn't force me, he just went after the next girl that would say yes. So according to many of the comments I have read the last few days, not only was I lucky, he was a bad man but not a bad scientist and his actions didn't hurt science. He was just a man with the manliest hobbies of all: chasing skirts. The problem is this: He had a type. He didn't went after every girl in his group, but all the girls he ended up chasing had physical and personality traits in common. I fit the type perfectly. So to this day I don't know if he really thought I was good at my job. And it affected me. I did consider not studying a Ph.D because of that experience. And I did have to do a lot of personal job to overcome it. 

Yes, here is the part where women everywhere and even some men will tell me that a man or a series of men don't define what we women are. That part of the problem is exactly that, that we women allow men to define if we are good or not. And I do agree I shouldn't be wondering if I'm good or not. I should be confident enough to know that I was good I just happened to fit his type.  I'm not playing the victim here BUT I WAS ONE, I just happened to go on with my life after that. 

The problem is that once again the responsibility lies on women and not on the men we face. Like #yesallwomen we wore the short skirts or danced provocatively or were too pretty for our own good. If we get discouraged to keep our STEM majors is because we let men get to us. Because we weren't strong enough and we let men define who we were. But is not like that. Those situations, the ones I lived, the ones lots of women face everyday shouldn't be happening on the first place. And things are not going to change until we make men in science and academia responsible for their actions.

Few women chose STEM careers and fewer get STEM majors,  even fewer stay in Academia. If we keep doing the same things, justifying behaviors, making us totally responsable of the situation and protecting important men because of their scientific value we are going to keep getting the same results.

lunes, 7 de julio de 2014

Things I learned as a Rookie Teacher ! Part 1

After a looong hiatus I'm back writing :) I apologize, I've had a couple of crazy months with the end of the school year here in Mexico and all the things you have to do in order to move to the US in August (I thought the difficult part was applying)

This year as a rookie teacher I learned so many things that I want to dedicate a post to all the big lessons, maybe later on i'll write a post on some of the things. Also here I'll make a list about the things I'll do in a different way but only to delve deeper into it in later posts. I truly believe that the things I want to change are the ones that deserve more reflection and discussion. Specially I want to talk about all this things before I start my PhD because that will mean the nature of this posts will change a little bit. I want to keep writing about #chemed but this time about the things I am going to learn as a gradstudent and how this program deeply focused on the learning sciences, policy and psychology will clash with everything I think and know about chemed. I am truly excited about my new life and can't wait to write about it here.

Now to the subject of this post:

1. You will never be completely and absolutely prepared to every possible question that your students can ask in class.

Trust me. Everytime I prepared for class I mad a list of all the things they could ask and prepare a simple answer and there wasn't a class where that list was enough. The imagination of this girls never stopped to surprise me. Also this girls were 15 (10 years younger than me) and they were born with the Internet. I know it may seem like if it wouldn't be a problem but there's a big difference !! Even though the internet has been present most of my life I learned to use it over the years this girls truly have been using it since they have memory and I truly believe they are wired differently. The amount of things they already know, heard of, etc makes them very imaginative when making questions.

2. Never underestimate the influence the background has on the learning process. Specially when it comes to girls.

This is where things from my personal life helped me relate to my students but not in a scientific way. So here comes the context. I come from a very confortable lifestyle. I've been blessed with a hardworking father and a good financially stable life that has allowed me to live things that are not so normal to the country I live in. With that I mean I belong to that little percentage of the population that in Mexico we refer as upper middle class and my students were from a private school that ranged from upper middle class to really rich girls. And I am not saying this to sound presumptuous but I think is worth telling that girls like them and me are not expected to do something from our lives. My parents bless them have supported me every step of the way but I have broken the status quo of what society expected of my from the moment I decided to study chemical engineering and made the choice to attend to a public college (BEST COLLEGE IN MY COUNTRY but still public) We grow with very specific family models. A dad that works really hard, beyond 9 to 5 and a loving mom that maybe went to college but hasn't worked a single day of her life. And before I go on I respect full time moms and I admire what they do but I think is a VERY PERSONAL DECISION and is not and ideal that should be imposed on little girls. Most of the things I remember from my childhood are the lessons of how to be a good girl. How to impress your future boyfriend's parents. How to be the kind of girl that a boy introduces to his parents. What is an appropriate conversation for a woman (no politics, soccer, etc) enough to create a good impression and never so much that it looks like you know more than your man. And this whole rant comes to the point that private schools in Mexico are good for marketing, business, etc. but there's nothing like UNAM to study a STEM career problem is UNAM is 90% working class kids not the kind of place you go looking for a husband (And yes that's the argument they gave so I wouldn't study at UNAM. I know this all seems like a poor rich girl thing to say and I can't pretend to know the things girls from other backgrounds have to face. Though thanks to twitter I have learned a few things. But this girls arrive defeated to the STEM classroom. They are already predisposed that STEM is a guy's thing, and that is something you have to fight against day after day after day in the classroom. It may sound totally silly but this girls are very afraid that they are not going to marry the good way and they are only 15.

Related to this I found the other day this amazing ad about how we don't encourage curiosity in little girls.

3. It will always feel like the first day of class.

Points one and two are things that may not change over the years of teaching. This one maybe not. You will always feel like the first day of class because every class you are teaching something you haven't taught before, a homework you have never graded a test you have never applied. When it came to tests I always was afraid that I did it to long or to difficult and every class I was afraid I would give a sucky explanation. That was also part of the fun but everyday was new and that was a good feeling, I never felt like I was stuck in a routine.

4. Teenagers are resilient to change

For kids that were born in the information age they are resilient to change. They come from a very specific education from elementary school and from some of the middle school teachers so the moment you do something completely different they tend to freak out. But changing their traditional education I think is fundamental in order to develop STEM skills.

5. Sometimes they just need someone to believe in them

There will always be people that struggle with STEM, and that is ok we need artists and people that study different things, but I discovered that sometimes kids that have always struggled with STEM think that is because they are not good enough. Taking special attention with this kids making sure they don't let the "I CAN'T" be the reason they don't succeed in some cases proved to be enough to get them from the F's to a C.

Here's part 1. I hope you liked it :)

miércoles, 9 de abril de 2014

Why should we scientists tweet?

I love tweeting. It has helped me connect with lots of chemists, learn from them and discover topics that I've never wondered about.

As you know I have been focusing more and more on education to the point of deciding I'm going to do a PhD in science education or chemical education. That led me to take some education courses this semester and in both of them I have to write a term paper on a subject I find interesting and relevant for chemical education.

In one of them I decided to talk about twitter and how it can help educate people about topics on chemophobia and more. From what I've learn and thought while doing this and by petiton of Joaquin Barroso (‏@joaquinbarroso) I'm writing this post about why should we tweet, ways we tweet and somethings I believe we could do to be better communicators to non-scientists. (though I consider myself far from being an expert on the subject) I’ll divide this in two. First post would be abput why should we… and the second one about how can we…

First of all lets talk a little about the trust people have on us as scientists. The GSS (General Social Survey)(Davis & Smith, 1991) is a sociological interview used to collect data about the demographic characteristics y thoughts of the residents of the US. This survey is done every year and it's widely used in sociological research. According to data collected in 2012 of 1259 people only 43% claimed to have complete confidence in the scientific community. 50% has some confidence and 7% no confidence. That means 57% of people would be very likely to not listen to a scientists and search their answers elsewhere.

This survey also asked " We are interested in how people get information about  science and technology. Where do you get most of your  information about science and technology (­ newspapers,  magazines, the Internet, books or other printed materials, TV,  radio, government agencies, family, friends, colleagues, or some  other source)?”
56.1% answered their first source would be the internet, where information is not necessarily trustful. And according to the information of the first question most people wouldn't look necessarily for a scientific source.

I remember a Nature Chemistry piece by Michelle Francl(Francl, 2013) where she talks about “ho to counteract Chemophobia.” In this article she says and I quote: “Cultural cognition theory builds on the established notions of biased assimilation and the availability heuristic: people are biased not only in the information they retain, but find it easier to recall information that supports their position. The theory goes even further and posits that the process of selecting credible sources can reinforce these biases…….instead we search out experts whose broad world view matches our own, liberal or conservative, hierarchally inclined or community minded.” Meaning people won’t trust us because we have a degree on science but because they feel we are similar to them, we share the same beliefs etc.
It’s obvious we scientists probably don’t strike as very relatable people. I believe that has to do a lot with the stereotypes surrounding scientists (PhD comics makes a great discussion here  But people don’t know we are not like that, I mean I’m a girly girl I love clothes and shoes and makeup and more shoes, it’s not only me though, Dr Isis (@drisis) loves tweeting about her shoes (which I love) and she also posts about her daily thoughts. Meaning we are not Amy Farrah Fowler. Most of us besides tweeting about what we do at work tweet when we are angry, when we are happy, when we are in trouble and when just whan to share something silly. I don’t know about other areas but we chemists have created a truly wonderful community on twitter and if outsiders read our tweets they would find out we are just like any of them. Yes we don’t have a 9 to 5 job (here we call those people Godinez) but we are not so different.

So the first answer I would give to “Why should we tweet” is because people can feel more related to us if we do, and that could help raise their trust in what we say.
Second point, people are not coming for us at least we could go to them. If we see a magazine or paper or people making wrong assumptions tweeter makes it very easy for us to raise our concerns or why they are wrong (although they may not listen).

Having also only 140 characters to tweet we are forced to be concise, if something short in 140 catches your attention you may feel the need to follow the link, ask the tweeter further questions and even do a little research on your own.

Putting the scicomm thing apart, tweeting inside a scientific community helps you meet new people (cheaper than going to a congress) and specially people you wouldn’t have met because they belong to a research area very different than yours. We can share information, discuss topics of importance, hear different opinions. Researchers can use tweeter to find potential students and to put their research out there.

I’ll write more on another post.. but I would really like to hear some feedback or opinions about what I just said. See you on twitter (@pinkyprincess :) )

Davis, J. A., & Smith, T. W. (1991). The NORC General Social Survey. SAGE Publications, Incorporated.
Francl, M. (2013). How to counteract chemophobia. Nature Chemistry, 5(6), 439–440. doi:10.1038/nchem.1661

martes, 18 de marzo de 2014

Values in the Science Classroom

I recently read an article about teaching values on the science classroom. I wanted to share with you somethings that came to my mind while reading it.

The first thing that came to my mind was here in Mexico middle school teachers are either people who studied what we call a "Teacher School" where you take the focus on the subject you are going to teach (math, sciences, spanish, etc) These teachers take pedagogy and teaching related subjects plus the theory about the things they are going to teach. So their knowledge is not really deep talking about chemistry, biology etc.. is only enough to teach the subject. And people who studied a major in any science and want to teach. In high schools only a major in chemistry can teach chemistry and so on. But in order to teach you don't need a license or anything you just need an undergraduate degree.

So when the article started talking about teaching science with a focus on values I stared thinking in my own experience as an undergrad in a chemistry related major, and I couldn't remember not even one class where we discussed values in science. So... how can I expect that that person who never saw science as a value driven thing in his/her undergraduate years could have the tools to create that kind of discussion on his/her science classroom. So as a teacher who wants to do this you first have to research read a lot from all points of view and generate your own conclusion even though during class you can't be biased. the first question would be: Are teachers willing to do this extra work?. In my country unfortunately the answer would be no (at least for the most part of people)

And the other thing I wanted to comment is I believe creating this kind of science and values discussion is super important. Because I think we all know most of the students in a science classroom won't become scientists. But they'll become who one day will be home watching and infomercial and listening that organic sillicium is the fountain of youth... or that some politician says climate change doesn't exist. And some of the will be the kind of people who influence policies and big decisions, and they won't remember the Aufbau principle or the bernoulli equation but maybe they will remember that even though science are facts their application in the world will have consequences and wether you agree with it or not will depend on the ability to listen to all sides of the story and pick a side... not matter what side as long as you know you had a choice to chose where you stood.

We have to realize as teachers in all education levels that teaching the facts is no longer enough. Maybe once it was... But in a world where more and more people have to have sciencitific literacy is super important we have to make sure scientific literacy doesn't become just a collection of facts but also create conciseness about how those facts can be used to hurt others, and that science can be thought as pure... but in the hands of men can be a wonderful or terrible thing