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Professional Development for Teachers on Gender Equity in the Sciences: Initiating the Conversation

by Daniel Battey, Yasmin Kafai, Althea Scott Nixon & Linda L. Kao - 2007

We face more subtle and complex issues in gender equity in the sciences than ever before. Although researchers have proposed various interventions and solutions, one area that has received little attention is professional development for teachers. We synthesized 170 projects, sponsored by NSF and AAUW, which included professional development on gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We examined the projects on three effects: 1) student engagement in inquiry; 2) sustainability over the long-term; and 3) integration of professional development and the classroom. Our results indicate that most gender equity professional development in STEM lacks essential elements to effectively promote and implement gender equity in the classroom. Half of the projects did not address science and mathematics content and 84 percent did not include inquiry, an integral component of quality professional development. We discuss implications given the current state of gender equity in the sciences.


Issues we now face in gender equity in the sciences are subtle and complex.  Small to no differences remain between girls and boys on standardized tests, college entrance exams, and high school course-taking patterns (Clewell & Campbell, 2002).  These results tell a promising story of opening opportunities for girls to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  It is important that girls have the ability, confidence, and access to scientific fields, so they can pursue STEM careers if they choose.  However, with the exception of fields like biology and medicine, girls choose college majors in science and mathematics at less than half the rate of boys (ACT Inc., 2001; College Board, 2001; National Science Foundation, 2002).  With changes in gender equity issues, educators need to think differently about how to help students learn STEM.  Although researchers have proposed various interventions and solutions, one area that has received little attention is professional development for teachers.

Teachers are often part of girls’ first experiences with formal science and mathematics; therefore, they are integral to the relationships girls develop with STEM.  Quality professional development is imperative because mathematics and science teachers are often not aware of issues such as calling on boys more often than girls, praising boys more frequently, and not waiting long enough for girls to share their thinking (Campbell, 1995; Karp, 1988).  Professional development is the space where many teachers have the opportunity to rethink and change their classroom practices (Brown, Greeno, Lampert, Mehan, & Resnick, 1999).  If classrooms are to develop into gender equitable learning environments, teachers and professional developers must share the responsibility for changing the ways we introduce girls into these traditionally “male-dominated” fields.  Although a number of projects have conducted professional development for teachers on gender equity, little has been written that documents and analyzes these efforts.  Therefore, we really do not have a good sense of how this professional development plays out in practice, nor what works or does not work when trying to support teachers’ development of equitable classrooms.  

We synthesized the professional development in 170 projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of University Women (AAUW).1  This was a unique opportunity to examine the last 10 years of professional development on gender equity in the sciences.  We looked at the content of the professional development provided and whether it was sustained.  The literature on professional development has not substantially linked professional development practices to classroom learning (Brown et al., 1999).  Therefore, we were also interested in how the teachers implemented professional development with students.  The project reports of the professional development served to inform three questions: What does professional development on gender equity look like?  How is it successfully implemented?  How is it successfully sustained?


We wanted to use professional development and gender equity literatures to frame our synthesis.  As we reviewed this work, we found that they did not inform each other.  When researchers discuss professional development, they rarely address gender equity issues; when researchers discuss gender equity issues, they rarely address professional development.  We start by reviewing the literature on effective professional development and consider how this applies to girls’ experiences in STEM.  We see this as an opportunity to begin the conversation between these fields.

Principles of Effective Professional Development

Reviews of professional development agree on some overarching principles that guide the formation of quality professional development. Little (1993) focuses on the following principles for effective professional development: using inquiry, engaging collegially with intellectual, social, and emotional issues, working over an extended period of time, using teacher’s work as a context for learning, contextualizing classroom practice within school community and children’s lives, balancing the interests of individuals and institutions.  Other reviews have come up with similar principles (Abdal-Haqq, 1995; Putnam & Borko, 1997; Wilson & Berne, 1999).  In essence, these reviews agree that quality professional development should include inquiry, collaboration, be sustained over the long-term, make classroom practice central, and take into account the larger social and political context.  Inquiry, in particular, is important in professional development because it can be considered with respect to the subject matter (STEM), teaching practices, beliefs, and institutions.

We define inquiry in professional development as engagement and action within the problems of practice, in this case, the teaching of science and mathematics.  Therefore, professional development of this kind fosters a stance towards teaching focused on questioning and transforming existing classroom practices, subject matter, personal beliefs, and institutional histories.  When inquiry is a guiding principle of professional development, teachers’ concerns drive the content and questions to help classroom practice.  Instead of telling teachers what to do, professional development using inquiry engages teachers in a subject-specific way, to learn in and from their own classroom practice.

Professional development that engages teachers in inquiry is important because research has found that differences in student learning are based on the culture of practice encouraging teacher learning and collective responsibility (Lee & Smith, 1996).  It is not simply engagement around teaching but also a focus on the tasks of teaching that improves student learning.  These tasks might include investigating written cases of classroom episodes, classroom video, or student work.  The important part of investigating these teaching artifacts is integrating what teachers are learning with what is going on in the classroom and inquiring into the consequences of action to make adjustments in a specific direction (Brown et al., 1999).  However, it is not only important for professional development to use inquiry.  Teachers must engage students in inquiry as well.

Inquiry as a way to embed gender equity in content

Inquiry has the potential for addressing current gender equity issues in STEM because it can challenge the relationships girls develop with science and mathematics by privileging the interests and concerns of learners and by allowing girls to ask different kinds of questions and pursue different goals in their scientific development.  We define inquiry in the classroom as engagement with authentic problems of subject matter, raising questions and developing explanations grounded in experience, reasoning with evidence, justifying claims, and using representations central to the domain of study.  While much of the research focuses in the classroom, out-of-school experiences are also important in girls’ scientific development (Falk, Donovan, & Woods, 2001).  Nevertheless, in or out of the classroom, inquiry focuses on the author, methods, and subject matter.  Teachers can use inquiry to engage students in constructing their own questions, understanding the author’s perspective, placing the subject matter within a historical context, and examining the implications of the knowledge developed (Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Solloway, 1999).

The ways in which teachers introduce and engage girls with science and mathematics heavily influences girls’ relationships with these disciplines.  The perception of STEM as “male-dominated” is not separate from how we induct students into these disciplines.  Teaching in these disciplines is a historical practice, enculturing students into certain ways of engaging in STEM.

We view girls’ introduction to science and mathematics along the lines of feminist empiricism and standpoint epistemology (Harding, 1986, 1991, 1993).  Feminist empiricism positions itself by saying that science and its methodologies are fundamentally sound, but that some practices, methods, assumptions, and findings of scientists are biased against women.  Traditional classroom practices developed over an inequitable history of participation in both education and STEM and these teaching practices tend to reproduce inequitable access.  We know that most teachers replicate how they were taught in the classroom; therefore, they replicate how they were introduced into scientific fields.  If the practices of science have been historically biased against women, then the classroom practices for inducting others into these fields are biased as well.  In other words, the assumptions, methods, and findings girls learn in school structure their later relationships with the sciences.

Focusing on the relationships girls develop with STEM disciplines is important because we know that girls lack confidence and hold more negative attitudes towards STEM than boys do (Campbell, 1995; Greenberg-Lakes Analysis Group, 1990; Hyde, Fennema, Ryan, Frost, & Hopp, 1990).  These issues indicate a different problem with respect to gender equity in STEM, not one of girls achieving to the same levels as boys do, but one where girls disidentify with these fields despite their successes.  If girls’ relationships with STEM disciplines cause them to disconnect with these fields, then we would expect girls to eventually opt out of them.  Although girls can achieve in classrooms using traditional teaching practices, their negative attitudes and uncertainty in their abilities, their relationships, keep them from engaging further in science and mathematics.  Engaging girls in inquiry has been shown to increase girls’ enjoyment in fields that they typically disidentify with (Kahle & Damnjanovic, 1994).  Therefore inquiry has the potential to challenge “the male-dominated” culture that often permeates STEM fields; however, most of the professional development available to teachers does not support the integration of inquiry into the classroom.

Gender equity in professional development

Most in-service teacher education on gender equity comes in the form of a sexual harassment talk or a one-day workshop similar to multicultural education (Sleeter, 1992).  This professional development is too short-term, does not require personal engagement in the activity, and is disconnected from classroom practice (Wilson & Berne, 1999).  How can a one-day workshop challenge teachers’ notions about long-standing inequities in science?  

Some professional development centers on gender equity awareness.  This professional development can range from information about the gender gap to reading about famous female scientists (e.g., Jane Goodall).  Other professional development focuses on some general “best practices” teachers can be aware of in their own classrooms to support gender equity, such as focusing on the proportion of time spent calling on boys and girls, different types of questions and praise, and increasing wait time after asking questions (Campbell, 1995).  All of this professional development promotes general (not content-specific) practices that allow girls some space to enter the fields of science, mathematics, and technology.  They do not, however, fundamentally change the ways we ask questions, study, and draw conclusions about the world around us.  Therefore, they do not challenge the relationships that girls develop with STEM.

These types of professional development also do not contain the components that generate teacher learning (Franke, Carpenter, Fennema, Ansell, & Behrend, 1998).  They are not integrated into the classroom and they tell teachers what to do more than help them inquire into making their practice more effective.  This limits the learning opportunities that teachers have to improve classroom practice.  Without professional development to guide teachers in inquiring within their classrooms, there is little chance that they will even be able to notice embedded inequities, let alone apply general classroom practices.  Even if quality support were available to teachers, these practices are general ways to promote gender equity in the classroom.  They are not teaching strategies specific to STEM.

Inquiry, on other hand is content-specific.  One would not ask the same kinds of questions in science, mathematics, or even English literature.  Content drives the engagement when inquiry-based practices are employed, and therefore this practice has potential for challenging the disidentification of girls in STEM.  The point we are making here is that we must start to find ways to help girls build relationships that can extend past their K-12 educational experience, into college, and their future careers.  Although “best practices” or “gender equity awareness” can help give equitable attention to the learning of girls, they minimally change the relationships that girls develop with the STEM content they are learning.  The same can be said for professional development on subject matter alone.

Professional development on subject matter does not challenge how we introduce girls into “male-dominated” disciplines.  In fact, it is likely that this type of professional development reproduces many of the teaching practices that cause girls to disidentify with STEM because it reproduces the traditional ways we introduce girls into mathematics and science.  Professional development using inquiry engages teachers in a subject-specific way, helping them develop a stance of learning in and from classroom practice.  But it is not only subject-matter specific.  It also challenges the personal beliefs, learning, and institutions in which teaching is situated.  Inquiry has the potential for changing teachers’ and students’ relationships because it is content-specific and because it questions embedded inequitable practices.

Our synthesis examined 170 projects that included professional development on gender equity in the sciences.  We focused on the different professional development content available to teachers: awareness of gender equity issues, general best practices, learning of subject matter, and inquiry.  Three questions guided our synthesis of the professional development in the reports: 1) was it integrated into the classroom; 2) was it sustained over the long-term; and 3) were students engaged in inquiry?  We also wanted to bring together the literatures on gender equity and professional development to inform this synthesis.  Our goal was to understand professional development on gender equity and its effects.


This section begins with a brief context for the projects as well as the method used to synthesize them.  We then provide information on the coding scheme developed.


The 170 projects of professional development in gender equity were part of a larger dataset of 416 projects, funded between 1993 and 2001 by the NSF and the AAUW to examine and promote gender equity.2  All 416 reports were classified using a set of categories that covered aspects including participants, school levels, locations, and settings.  For this paper, we selected only those projects that dealt explicitly with professional development.  We excluded projects that addressed pre-service teacher education in this synthesis, which resulted in 170 reports, 36 sponsored by NSF and 134 by AAUW.  A general examination of the 416 projects is available elsewhere (AAUW, 2004).3

To deal with the diversity in reporting detail, we adopted a case survey method (Yin & Heald, 1975) that allowed the inclusion of all reports, whether research studies or teacher projects.  The final reports of these projects, supplemented with publications and other materials, provided the data for this study.  Project reports came in many formats, the most traditional being the research report.  Research reports ranged from empirical studies with quantitative analyses of girls’ achievement and program evaluations to more qualitative work that provided ethnographic descriptions of school and community settings.  In some cases, reports came from outside organizations that conducted formal evaluations of project activities and outcomes.  Especially from the practitioner side, reports offered concrete examples of interventions, activities, and outcomes, with the occasional evaluation.  Some projects also created videos, guidebooks, or websites.

Coding scheme

The authors examined 20 percent of the 170 reports to determine common themes among the professional development components contained in the projects.  From these, a coding scheme was developed which included categories such as professional development content, project implementation, student activities, and sustainability of implementation.  After coding a number of projects, researchers met and if codes were inconsistent, discussed the differences until an agreement was reached.  Based on this preliminary coding, the criteria were refined and used for all projects.  In each category, multiple codes were allowed to reflect the diversity and depth of the professional development provided.  Projects that contained insufficient information in any category were coded as “unspecified.”

We examined all projects for the content of the professional development teachers received.  We used four categories from both the professional development and gender equity literatures: awareness of gender equity, best practices, subject-matter training, and inquiry (see Appendix, Table 1).  Awareness of gender equity included general introductions to the inequities existing between boys and girls in the sciences.  Best practices referred to general teaching strategies to engage girls in the curriculum and class activities (e.g., equal proportion of calling on girls and boys).  Professional development that focused on science, technology, engineering, or mathematics was coded as subject-matter training.  If teachers participated in subject-matter--specific projects that engaged them in the inquiry process, then the project was coded as inquiry.  Again, projects could receive multiple codes across any of the criteria.

We also examined how projects engaged students in activities.  Projects that engaged students within the classroom curriculum were coded as integrated into the curriculum.  All others were coded as out of the classroom enrichment activities and fell into the following categories:  club (either at lunch or after school), internship, field trip, or career panels.

We coded how teachers engaged their schools in the projects and whether they continued activities past the conclusion of their grant.  Teachers could include colleagues in “formal” (e.g., staff development) or “informal” (e.g., personal conversations) discussions about what they had learned.  Even after the grant had expired, some teachers or researchers chose to continue their projects (continuation).  In some cases, the faculty or administration deemed the project valuable, built the project into the structure of the school or district, and continued it year after year (structural).

To investigate whether the professional development teachers received was similar to what happened afterwards in the classrooms, we coded implementation in a similar manner to professional development content using the same four categories.  For example, if teachers reported using general teaching strategies to engage girls in their classroom or club, the project was coded as “best practices.”

After coding all of the reports, we examined interactions between various components to see how they influenced each other.  For example, we compared the professional development content received to the sustainability of the teacher’s intervention to see if different types of training were more likely to remain embedded in the school structure.


We provide an overall description of the gender equity projects, including a summary of the different STEM fields, the grade level, gender and ethnicity of students, and the locations of the K-12 schools.  We then report on the professional development content, student activities, sustainability, and implementation.  The main section of results compares different combinations of professional development content to what happens with students.  Certain combinations of professional development content were more prevalent than others.  We compare each predominant combination of professional development to how teachers later engaged students during the implementation.  We report differences between NSF and AAUW projects when they apply.

Project descriptors

NSF projects included professional development on science (47%), technology (44%), and mathematics (39%), and AAUW projects included science (73%), technology (57%) or mathematics (51%).  Only 10 percent of projects dealt with engineering, which is not surprising considering these were K-12 schools.  The projects included middle school students (44%), elementary school students (44%), and less frequently high school students (28%) with 18 percent of the projects unspecified.  Although we expected most gender equity projects to include only girls, boys and girls participated in 48 percent of projects and 50 percent had a girls-only focus.  Most of the adult participants were teachers (83%), but projects also included parents (50%), members of community organizations (43%), STEM professionals (25%), school administrators (22%), and school counselors (4%).

We intended to examine issues of race, geographic location, and ethnicity in conjunction with gender, but the infrequent report of this information hindered this effort.  Most projects (53% NSF and 72% AAUW) did not report any information about the ethnicity or race of student populations.  Thirty percent of the gender equity projects took place in urban schools, 28 percent in suburban schools, and 21 percent in rural schools.  However, 24 percent of the projects did not specify the location of schools.

Description of professional development content

When we examined the content of professional development (see Appendix, Table 2), NSF projects included activities to raise gender equity awareness (86%), learn more STEM subject matter (86%), and teach best practices (83%).  Over half of the NSF projects (58%) engaged teachers in STEM through inquiry as well.  In contrast, very few of the AAUW projects (4%) had teachers engage in inquiry projects during their professional development.  All AAUW professional development included activities to raise awareness of gender equity issues, while 45 percent included subject-matter training, and 29 percent included best practices.

Student activities

Over half of the NSF projects (55%) were integrated into the classroom curriculum, while only 23 percent of AAUW projects were (see Appendix, Figure 1).  Most AAUW projects included activities that took place outside the classroom, such as after-school or summer clubs (72%) and field trips (69%).  Many NSF projects (53%) also included clubs, and 36 percent of NSF projects had field trips.  Approximately equal percentages of NSF (28%) and AAUW (31%) projects held career panels for students to get information about career choices in STEM fields, but few NSF (3%) or AAUW (1%) projects included internships for students to work with these STEM professionals.


About one-third of the NSF projects (31%) and 10 percent of the AAUW projects did not provide any information on the efforts towards sustainability (see Appendix, Figure 2).  Some of the researchers and teachers in the NSF and AAUW projects gave informal (28% and 57%, respectively) or formal (44%, each) presentations to teachers within the school community.  Only 22 percent of the NSF projects and 29 percent of the AAUW projects continued in schools.  A low percentage of projects were built into the school structure, 19 percent of NSF projects and only 6 percent of the AAUW projects, showing that there was little institutionalized sustainability of these projects.


Approximately half of both NSF (55%) and AAUW (47%) projects focused on awareness of gender equity in their curriculum for the students (see Appendix, Figure 3).  Half of the NSF projects (55%) implemented curriculum on best practices, but fewer teachers (28%) in the AAUW projects did.  Most NSF and AAUW projects (69% each) focused on awareness of STEM disciplines.  About one-third of NSF projects (31%) and 9 percent of AAUW projects implemented inquiry projects in the classroom; however, greater percentages of both NSF (39%) and AAUW (23%) implemented inquiry projects outside of the classroom, in after-school or summer clubs.

Combinations of professional development

While the previous synthesis showed us the professional development available to teachers, this synthesis brings a more complex understanding of professional development and its effects on students, classrooms, and students.

Many projects included multiple forms of professional development content and we grouped projects into various combinations.  We found five major combinations (see Table 2) accounting for 94 percent of the data (160 of the 170 projects).  All other possible combinations occurred too infrequently to warrant further analysis.  All five combinations included activities to raise awareness of gender equity issues.  Only three combinations were content-based, linking gender equity issues with a focus on STEM subject matter.  The only combination that prepared teachers to use inquiry practices in the classroom included all four content (awareness of gender equity, best practices, subject-matter training, and inquiry).  This combination comprised only 12 percent of all of the gender equity professional development available to teachers, was the least frequent, and came more from NSF- than AAUW-funded projects.

The most frequent combination of professional development content was awareness of gender equity (31%) alone, though AAUW sponsored all of these projects.  AAUW also only sponsored the combination of professional development that included subject-matter training and awareness of gender equity, the next most common combination.

We report the effects of different combinations of professional development content across NSF and AAUW to compare combinations of professional development content.

Professional development combinations and student activities

The professional development combination that included all four content areas—awareness of gender equity, subject-matter training, best practices, and inquiry—was the most likely combination to be integrated into students’ classroom curricula (see Figure 1):  62 percent of gender equity projects with all four content integrated their work into the curriculum as compared to between 24 percent and 45 percent of other combinations.  Very few projects (2%) that only included awareness of gender equity issues addressed the classroom curriculum.

Approximately equal numbers of projects with each combination of professional development content had club activities, internships, and career panels for students, but projects with just one form of professional development content—activities to raise awareness of gender equity—were more likely than projects with other combinations of professional development to have field trips for students.  Eighty-three percent of projects with only professional development activities to raise awareness of gender equity issues had K-12 students take field trips. Between 50 percent and 60 percent of projects with other combinations of professional development content had field trips as part of the activities for students.  The next section compares content of professional development with implementation focus in K-12 schools.

Professional development combinations and sustainability

Forty percent of professional development aimed solely at awareness of gender equity issues and 33 percent including all four content were continued, compared to between 14 and 24 percent of other combinations (see Figure 2).  Twenty-four percent of the combination including all four professional content was built into the school or district structure, versus 3 percent to 12 percent of other projects.  Approximately equal percentages of projects with each combination of professional development had informal or formal discussions.

Professional development combinations and implementation

Professional development that included all four content consistently affected classroom implementation more than any other combination.  This combination was the only one that included inquiry, and as expected, was more likely to have students engage in inquiry, in the classroom or in after-school clubs (see Figure 3).  Professional development with all four content engaged 85 percent of students in some form of inquiry (inside the classroom 48%, outside the classroom 57%), compared to between 18 percent and 30 percent of other combinations.

Only 8 percent of professional development including activities to raise awareness of gender equity issues and subject-matter training had best practices implemented in the classroom.  Professional development solely on gender equity awareness was also unlikely to implement best practices (13%).  Surprisingly, professional development only on gender equity awareness was the least likely (30%) to have activities to raise awareness of gender equity issues implemented in the classroom.  Between 54 percent and 71 percent of all other projects with multiple professional development content raised awareness of gender equity issues in classrooms.

Gender equity projects that did not include subject-matter training in the professional development were the least likely to engage students in subject matter (40–60%).  This compared to between 80 percent and 86 percent of other combinations of professional development.


To impact student learning on a larger scale, we need to think systematically about professional development in STEM.  When professional development combines inquiry in gender equity and subject matter, important classroom effects result.  The surprising part is that professional development including all four content was twice as likely as that containing only awareness of gender equity issues at bringing gender equity issues into the classroom.  It was also almost three times as likely to engage students in inquiry than any other professional development combination.

Despite the success of this form of professional development, it was not available to many teachers.  Over half of the professional development provided had no content focus despite being STEM projects.  And 84 percent of the projects did not include inquiry, an integral component of quality professional development.  Professional development without inquiry usually only changes surface features in classrooms.  Our goal here is not to berate professional development on gender equity; after all, if we were to look at professional development as a whole, we would find less attention to equity and much of it dealing with surface issues itself.  We are arguing that given the trends in gender equity, we need to rethink how professional development can meet the current needs of girls.

Among the possible explanations for the lack of success in promoting and implementing gender equity in STEM might be in the professional development literature.  Equity is not a central theme in professional development reviews (Little, 1993; Abdal-Haqq, 1995; Putnam & Borko, 1997; Wilson & Berne, 1999), though all of these authors deal with equity in their work.  Similarly, in mathematics and science education research, there is almost no mention of professional development on gender equity.  We think this makes professional development on gender equity an extra piece for the professional development literature.  For this reason, the add-on nature of gender equity in professional development should not come as a surprise.

The issue of integrating gender equity into professional development is not a new problem and parallels issues in multicultural education.  Separate threads of work have developed in professional development, one based on equity (multicultural education), and one based on subject matter (professional development).  All of these efforts, however, identify inquiry as an essential component.  Whether that means inquiring into subject matter, personal histories and beliefs, classroom practices, or larger social inequities, it is a stance towards rethinking teaching, beliefs, institutions, and society.  We suggest that gender equity, akin to multicultural education, should be infused into the ways of being in the classroom (Banks, Cookson, Gay, Hawley, Irvine, Nieto, Schofield, Stephan, 2001).  Efforts such as “Black History” month and “Take you daughter to work day” are not enough.  Equitable teaching is about understanding the complexity of the social and cultural contexts and using this to enrich the curriculum (Banks et al., 2001).  

In looking at professional development efforts in multicultural education, Sleeter (1992) found that much of it is too short-term, focuses on the content to be taught rather than the staff development process, and most studies produced negligible effects.  It seems that professional development in multicultural education and on gender equity have something in common: both are too short-term and do not infuse the principles of quality professional development into their efforts.  Lessons, however, can be found for professional development on gender equity in this literature.

Multicultural education suggests some ways to help teachers think through deeper equity issues.  Recommendations in the multicultural education form a consensus that says professional development programs need to help teachers understand the complexity of how race, ethnicity, language, and social class interact to influence students and how this plays out in society (Banks et al., 2001; Sleeter, 1992; Gay, 1977; Baker, 1977; Mock, 1983; Nickolai-Mays & Davis, 1986).  We would add that subject matter should not remain separate in professional development from understanding the complexity of how race, ethnicity, language, gender, and class play out in society.  General practices only do so much and the separation of equity and content hinders teachers in reforming their classroom practice to better address inequities in education.  If we do not begin to unite equity concerns and subject matter, we will only have general practices to help teachers think about inequities in their classrooms and quality professional development for teachers will be exclusive to subject matter.

Multicultural education, however, gives a nice starting point to think about how to restructure engagement in traditionally male-dominated fields:

“The curriculum should help students understand that knowledge is socially constructed and reflects researchers' personal experiences as well as the social, political, and economic contexts in which they live and work. In curriculum and teaching units and in textbooks, students often study historical events, concepts, and issues only or primarily from the points of view of the victors.  The perspectives of the vanquished are frequently silenced, ignored, or marginalized. This kind of teaching privileges mainstream students—those who most often identify with the victors or dominant groups—and causes many students of color to feel left out of the American story.” (Banks et al., 2001)

The same could be said with respect to girls in scientific fields.  Those with privilege construct science and mathematics, leaving the voices of women silenced, ignored, or marginalized.  Girls who study science in classrooms with mainstream teaching practices probably cannot hear women’s voices in the curriculum and might find it difficult to identify with these fields, though they certainly can achieve in them.  Inquiry as a classroom practice helps students question the issues, social construction, and methods of fields in a way that can give voice to those previously silenced and marginalized.

Professional development must begin to bear some of the burden for instantiating inquiry and equity into the classroom.  Research on gender equity has helped to find more equitable teaching practices, but research on professional development needs to begin to reconceptualize its own work.  We believe that equity will remain an add-on or a separate area for professional development rather than integrating these ideas into the core of mathematics and science professional development as long as these two literatures develop separately (Sleeter, 1997).  We tried to keep both subject matter and issues of equity central in analyzing the data and in writing this paper to provide a starting point for the field.

While our results are promising, we caution against drawing causal inferences since we were not able to consider issues like student achievement.  However, we see gender equity issues shifting towards identification with STEM and away from achievement.  To address this, we shifted our lens towards inquiry, not as an ideal to address all gender equity issues, but as a next step to address present concerns.  Other projects certainly exist that include professional development in gender equity, but our synthesis examines a substantial portion of this work and we hope our results can inform current and future efforts in the field.  Although we combined science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in this paper, we realize that quality professional development in each field does not look the same.  Combining of subject matter was partly a result of the projects integrating subject matter, but also the fact that these scientific fields have something in common: girls disidentification across STEM.  Therefore, although the details of professional development in scientific fields might look different, we can learn from looking at overarching principles that bridge these disciplines.


An opportunity to look back on a decade of the latest work to see where we have gone and where we still need to go is rare.  Professional development provided by AAUW, NSF, and others has helped tremendously in addressing gender equity, but with new issues, we need to think differently about how to achieve gender equity.  Current equity concerns also challenge the work done in professional development, which has to shift its own perspective on how to engage teachers and situate its work within school, community, and social issues.

The synthesis presented here did not use original data, which in some ways limited the analysis.  A study that is able to analyze the kinds of professional development as well as the change in classroom practices that ensue would be powerful for understanding how professional development can effect the classroom towards more equitable ends.  Again, achievement is an important factor, but in order to begin understanding how to support girls in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics we need to study a different grain-size.  We need to understand teaching practices, specific to science and mathematics rather than general best practices, which support the development of different relationships for girls with these fields.  Then we must begin to think of how professional development can do more than pass on subject matter.  A study that investigated both the practice of doing professional development on gender equity and the practice of teaching science for gender equity would be central to moving the field forward.  Inquiry, when promoted in professional development, has the potential for helping teachers change girls’ relationships with STEM by encouraging questions of their stance on gender, race, class, language, personal beliefs, and institutional settings. Unfortunately, our synthesis also shows that most of the professional development available to teachers did not include inquiry.  If classrooms are to develop into gender-equitable environments, teachers, professional developers, researchers, and policy-makers must share the responsibility for changing the ways we introduce girls into these traditionally “male-dominated” fields.

Under the current pressures of accountability and testing, supporting inquiry in the classroom is no small task.  These issues especially come down hard on girls, urban schools, and those children underserved by the educational system.  Given these political and economic demands, many teachers feel the need to “teach to the test” or cover content rather than examine authentic problems of mathematics and science.  These traditional ways of engaging students reproduce the existing inequities in science and mathematics.  Therefore, it is even more important given these trends to support teachers in engaging students differently with these domains as a way of providing opportunities for students who are traditionally denied access to high-level science and mathematics.


The research reported in this article has been supported by a National Science Foundation grant (NSF 0220556) awarded to Yasmin Kafai. The ideas expressed here do not necessarily reflect the position of the funding agency.


Table 1:

Coding Scheme



Professional Development Content

1) Awareness of Gender Equity

2) Best Practices

3) Subject-Matter Training

4) Inquiry

Student Activities

1) Integrated into Curriculum

2) Club

3) Field Trip

4) Internship

5) Career Panels


1) Informal

2) Formal

3) Continuation

4) Structural


1) Awareness of Gender Equity

2) Best Practices

3) Subject-Matter Training

4) Inquiry

Table 2:

Combinations of Professional Development Content


Gender Equity Project

Professional Development Combination




Awareness of Gender Equity, Best Practices,

Subject-Matter Training,





Awareness of Gender Equity, Best Practices,

Subject-Matter Training




Awareness of Gender Equity, Best Practices




Awareness of Gender Equity, Subject-Matter Training




Awareness of Gender Equity




a n=29 b n=131 c n=160

Figure 1:

Student Activities vs. Combination of Professional Development


Figure 2:

Sustainability vs. Combination of Professional Development


Figure 3:

Implementation vs. Combination of Professional Development



1 Three programs at both foundations initiated these projects. At NSF, the Gender Diversity in STEM Education program (previously Gender Equity in STEM and before that, Program for Women and Girls) funds research, innovation, and evaluation of gender equity projects. AAUW supports two programmatic efforts: Eleanor Roosevelt Teaching Fellowships for K–12 classroom teachers and Community Action Grants for individuals, AAUW branches and community organizations. During each year studied, these foundations sponsored between 30 and 40 research and demonstration projects.

2 The difference in funding for the projects meant different participants as well.  AAUW provided grants to individuals, either teachers or a member of a community group.  NSF projects were often research-based and engaged groups of teachers or schools, with teachers as participants in the projects.  Therefore, AAUW provided professional development for individuals as well as funded coursework for them.  NSF projects usually incorporated professional development for groups of teachers.

3 The numbers in the AAUW (2004) report are different because the original synthesis included projects on pre-service teachers.  Based on the overview of the projects in the AAUW report, we found that a deeper and more refined synthesis was necessary to better understand professional development on gender equity.  For that reason, we also refined our coding and definitions for this paper.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 1, 2007, p. 221-243
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12741, Date Accessed: 4/21/2021 11:42:23 PM

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  • Daniel Battey
    Arizona State University
    E-mail Author
    DANIEL BATTEY is an Assistant Professor in Mathematics Education at Arizona State University. He specializes in professional development and equity issues in mathematics education. His work centers on engaging teachers in opportunities to learn within and from their practice in a way that sustains and generates change. Dr. Battey has just finished working on two chapters for the Handbook of Research on Teaching and Learning Mathematics, one on equity issues and one on classroom practices. In addition to his publications, he has designed and run professional development across California, Arizona, and Illinois in Cognitively Guided Instruction and helping teachers move students from arithmetic to algebraic thinking.
  • Yasmin Kafai
    UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
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    YASMIN KAFAI is an Associate Professor of Learning and Instruction at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Her research focuses on the development and implementation of technology-rich learning environments in mathematics and science in both schools and informal settings.
  • Althea Nixon
    UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
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    ALTHEA SCOTT NIXON is a Ph.D. candidate at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. She researches the ways children and adolescents use computer technologies in academic enrichment programs as a means for developing a critical understanding of their social worlds and identities as students.
  • Linda Kao
    UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
    E-mail Author
    LINDA L. KAO is a doctoral student in Psychological Studies in Education at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include professional development, the uses of technology in the classroom, and educational policy.
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