Shower curtains beat Beckham at physics

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Physics teachers trying to enthuse pupils by talking about the science behind David Beckham's free kicks are putting girls off the subject.

A draft report from the Institute of Physics presented at the Association of Science conference said sexist or outdated analogies and illustrations played a part in the low numbers of girls studying science to A-level.

One girl told researchers: "I'm not interested in how Beckham bends a ball or what the acceleration of a Ferrari is - why should I be?"

Authors Bob Ponchaud and Daniel Sandford Smith suggested real-life illustrations that could interest both sexes, such as looking at the physics behind a shower curtain clinging when the water is turned on.

Mr Ponchaud, a former inspector, said: "I don't think it is about making physics 'girly'. But girls do say that very often the illustrations are outside their experience or are outdated, which may say something about the average age of physics teachers."

The researchers analysed the take-up of post-16 physics at 1,200 schools.

They found that successful schools used less jargon, paid more attention to how each part of the curriculum fitted into the "big picture" and gave students more time to reflect and consider questions, rather than making it a race to answer first.

Their evidence suggested that whether a teacher was male or female was irrelevant, and the need for role models of the same gender was not important.

In a separate workshop, Ed Walsh, Cornwall's science adviser, told delegates that although nationally boys and girls get similar science GCSE results, in some schools boys' results are 20 per cent lower than girls.

Schools need to recognise differences in the ways boys and girls learn, he said. Boys respond better to structured lessons with short tasks and need greater prompting to get involved in classroom discussions.

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