I made liquid nitrogen ice cream for a sixth grade science class – in red white and blue. Never, ever forget to wear your gloves when you do that. My fingers have not recovered yet, and it has been an agonizingly, painful week. But this is not the science matter I wanted to talk about. First I noticed, all the boys were clustered in the front. And all the girls were in the back of the room. And all the questions came from the boys. Well, not all. But noticeably more. And when I asked the teacher to pick three volunteers to stir the icecream (My hand was pretty useless by then) she picked all boys!
Now I am sensitized to these sorts of things. Thanks to our own wonderful Pat Marsteller’s mentoring, I have read my way through The Chilly Classroom (The Chilly Classroom Climate: A Guide to Improve the Education of Women, by Bernice Resnick Sandler, Lisa A. Silverberg, and Roberta M. Hall.) and “They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different: Stalking the Second Tier (Occasional Paper on Neglected Problems in Science Education)” by Sheila Tobias and know all about the differential treatment girls and female undergrads get in science classrooms, but I did not expect to see it. Each one of you should visit your middle schooler’s classroom and watch the dynamics. Who gets called on to answer in the science classes? Are the girls still getting the mixed signals at this particularly sensitive time?
The good news is that as I was leaving, a couple of girls helped me carry stuff back – and inundated me with questions. What is absolute zero? How cold is that? How do you make it that cold? What if we were on Pluto and we took this can of nitrogen there? Don’t you love thought experiments? The Tibetan monks are really good at these. After today’s close encounter with liquid nitrogen, I am all for less hands on and more thought experiments!
(Link to the book on Amazon)