Wilhelm - IJSE 2009

Gender Differences in Lunar-related Scientific and Mathematical Understandings
International Journal of Science Education

Author: Jennifer Wilhelm

This paper reports an examination on gender differences in lunar phases understanding of 123 students (70 females and 53 males). Middle-level students interacted with the Moon through observations, sketching, journalling, two-dimensional and three-dimensional modelling, and classroom discussions. These lunar lessons were adapted from the Realistic Explorations in Astronomical Learning (REAL) curriculum. Students' conceptual understandings were measured through analysis of pre-test and post-test results on a Lunar Phases Concept Inventory (LPCI) and a Geometric Spatial Assessment (GSA). The LPCI was used to assess conceptual learning of eight science and four mathematics domains. The GSA was used to assess learning of the same four mathematical domains; however, the GSA test items were not posed within a lunar context. Results showed both male and female groups to make significant gains in understanding on the overall LPCI test scores as well as significant gains on five of the eight science domains and on three of the four mathematics domains. The males scored significantly higher than the females on the science domain, phase—Sun/Earth/Moon positions, and on the mathematics domain geometric spatial visualisation. GSA results found both male and female groups achieving a significant increase in their test scores on the overall GSA. Females made significant gains on the GSA mathematics domains, periodic patterns and cardinal directions, while males made significant gains on only the periodic patterns domain. Findings suggest that both scientific and mathematical understandings can be significantly improved for both sexes through the use of spatially focused, inquiry-oriented curriculum such as REAL.