Igniting Girls’ Interest in Science
Girls’ interest, participation, and achievement in science decline as they advance in grade levels. For example, in fourth grade, the number of girls and boys who like math and science is about the same, but by eighth grade, twice as many boys as girls show an interest in these subjects. As the career expectations of eighth-grade students affect actual career outcomes, this interest deficit among girls may contribute to the continuing gender gap in science, particularly in terms of labor market outcomes.
Informal out-of-school programs have been shown to increase girls’ interest and participation in science. Successful programs incorporate hands-on activities, role models, an emphasis on practical applications, and practices that promote equitable learning environments for girls. Although the research is mixed, single-sex programs can provide a supportive learning environment for girls. Unfortunately, girls have fewer out-of-school science experiences than boys, a difference that may account for their lowered interest in school science courses. Additionally, girls’ (and boys’) participation in such programs dwindle during the transition from elementary to middle school, just as girls’ interest in science wanes.