ARCHIVED—Exemplary Practices 2008
Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.
Yes, I Can Love Science and Math
How do you design a science and math program that will engage the interests of young girls? It helps if you teach in an all-girl environment like Angela Magon who teaches Grade 11-12 Chemistry and Math at Queen Margaret's School, in Duncan, British Columbia. Research shows that the brains of men and women are different and given the same tasks, the way information is processed is completely different.
When she was hired as science department head in the 2005-2006 academic year, Magon discovered the achievement results for the department were flagging. Based on the research she had done, Magon had a good idea of what she wanted to do with the science program. For example, "Self-confidence in girls is huge. You take a girl that's getting A's and B's in math and science and you say 'you should go into the sciences' and they'll say, 'no, I'm not good enough' and they really believe it." To be encouraging in the way one teaches is important. Girls respond to good eye contact and Magon feels this helps to develop a personal relationship with students.
In practical terms, teaching approaches consist of covering topics like absorbency and density, not the most scintillating subjects, but Magon will use tampons as an example then segues into topics such as toxic shock. That gets her students' attention. She uses music, singing chemistry tunes such as The Elements Song by Tom Lehrer and others. Magon bakes cookies with her class, but it's done using chemical formulas and students are required to do conversions and calculations. She brings in a wide range of guest speakers particularly women working in the sciences. She conducts a lot of demonstrations. "I believe in a demo a day without fail. If I'm not doing a demo a day, I'm not doing my job and I feel guilty," she says.
And it is clear from the fiery demos and solving puzzles that fun is considered an integral aspect of science in Magon's class. She'll use card tricks to teach mathematics. When they go through a demonstration and work together, it's all about bonding, she says, huddling in groups to make something happen. All of which is part of the experience. This includes field trips, one in particular, where the class spends a week on the west coast doing marine biology. "They go out in boats. They do real science," she says.
Much of her efforts focus on confidence building. Magon noticed that the transition from grade seven to grade eight was problematic. Queen Margaret's has a co-ed K-7 junior school and a number of the girls were concerned about switching to an all-girl environment. Magon suggested a program where incoming grade eight girls spend an entire day with the senior students, where they especially focus on science. The senior girls mentor the younger ones, show them what they do in a typical day, teach lab experiments and in effect, become the teacher. As a result the transition rate has improved dramatically.
Not only that. Since the introduction of her girl-focused approach, the achievement statistics are enviable. Ninety percent of the grade 12 students take science when it is an optional subject in British Columbia. Over 50 percent of these students take two or more sciences and in 2008, 60 percent of the graduating class chose to enter a science-related career. Positive modeling and attitude counts for a lot and shows that yes, girls can love and excel at science and math if these are taught in an appealing way.