Ms. Deborah Tully, College Guidance and Mathematics, presented a paper at the European Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference in Rotterdam in July 2009. Of the 150 papers presented, her work won the Best Conference Paper in the category “Research in Engineering Education.” Her paper was published in The European Journal of Engineering Education, a peer-reviewed journal, in August 2010. Ms. Tully’s co-author is a woman on the engineering faculty at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.
The paper is titled “Effects of single-gender mathematics classrooms on self-perception of mathematical ability and post secondary engineering paths: an Australian case study.” The study focuses on a population of female engineering students, probing the influences of their secondary school experience on their choice to pursue an engineering course of study at the university level.
The motivating question is: Do unique opportunities exist in an all-female secondary school mathematics classroom, which impact a young woman’s self-perception of her mathematics ability as well as promote a positive path towards an engineering-based university major?
According to Ms. Tully and her co-author, the research indicates that female students at the University of Technology were primarily motivated to pursue a post-secondary engineering path because they believed they were competent math students whereas male students were primarily influenced by positive male role models who are practicing engineers. In measures of self-perception of mathematical skill and ability, female students from single-gender schools outscored their male-engineering counterparts. Additionally, Ms. Tully reports that female students seem to benefit from verbal encouragement, contextualization, and same-gender classroom dynamics and problem solving groups.