Early last year, Karen Pillion and Shane Bergin published a really interesting piece of research into the representation of women in Irish Physics textbooks and found that the situation was not good...
'This study has highlighted the overwhelming underrepresentation of women and girls within Irish physics textbooks, both in images and in-text references. This underrepresentation is consistent across all textbooks examined and also extends beyond scientist characters. This study also shows that when women are referenced in-text, the language used to describe them is different from the language used to describe men. Francis et al (2017) argue that such imbalance contributes to the 'continued prevalence of the discourse of physics as quintessentially masculine', where 'the lack of representation of women in physics simply becomes further evidence to support the "naturalness" of men's domination of physics' '
I wrote about it at the time, and Karen made a very interesting presentation at a Physics Hub outlining their research.
One issue surrounding this seemed initially hard to get around: Physics textbooks have to talk about historic characters, and for many reasons (many of which do not reflect well on the world) a majority of the historic figures in science have been male. But it occurred to afterwards that we could work around that. We don't have to leave out people like Newton, or Boyle, or Einstein just because we also include people like Marie Curie, Lise Meitner or Jocelyn Burnell Bell.
And this is important, because a student flicking through a physics textbook wondering if physics is for them is gong to be influenced by the people she or he sees there, and the more they see people-like-them there, they more likely they are to see themselves fitting in.
So I put this set of worksheets together, covering women in science. I wrote them in the style of Leaving Cert STS questions: a body of text followed by a set of questions that connect (at least loosely) with the text. I hope they might be of some use to teachers. I intend to insert them into a number of exams myself as the year goes by (for various reasons, a lot relate to modern physics, so it will have to wait until I get that far.
But as I was putting them together, it occurred to me that Historic, Nobel-winning physicists are not exactly relatable figures to most of us, regardless of their gender. So I included a number of women recently covered in an IoP booklet from their excellent Limit Less campaign. For both boys or girls, more exposure to people working in modern jobs might be more meaningful - and inspirational - than any number of stories from history of people who changed the world!
It's uploaded here, for those who want to use it. At the top left. Labelled 'Women-in-Stem Worksheets.'
If anybody would alike to add to it, or suggest changes, please get in touch. I'm hoping to expand it as the year goes on.