Science Hands-on Einsteinian physics program closes the gender gap

A program to teach Einsteinian physics to Years 3-10, trialled in Western Australian schools has found an unexpected improvement on the female students' understanding and attitude towards physics.

A team of researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery-University of Western Australia (OzGrav-UWA) are working on an education-project called "Einstein-First". This project has local, national and several international partners. The project has developed innovative methods to introduce Einsteinian physics – curved space, warped time, photons, black holes and quantum entanglement – into primary and high school. The programs, initially designed to gauge if students could grasp the concepts, are not specifically gender-oriented, backed by the belief that every child deserves the opportunity to partake in this learning.

Most research into student uptake of science revolves around a conventional Newtonian physics curriculum, which according to OzGrav's Dr Jyoti Kaur, who involved in the study, is outdated. "The current school science curriculum is based on obsolete Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry, even with new discoveries," she said.  "Einstein's theories, which offer the soundest description of the Universe in which we live, are not introduced until the final years of high school or in university. Einsteinian physics has tremendous applications in daily lives. Students use modern gadgets, but to understand how these gadgets work, it's important to understand the physics behind them."

This project has demonstrated, through numerous studies and peer reviewed published results, that Einsteinian physics can be successfully integrated into a curriculum at any year of schooling when taught at the appropriate level. These results concur with the statement of the distinguished Harvard and Oxford educator Jerome Bruner that, "Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development".

The team recently published a study in the journal 'Physics Education' which found that, regardless of academic stream, age group or culture, female students enter the program with substantially lower attitude scores than males. By the end of the program, however, both genders are equal in their attitude scores i.e. a willingness to engage in physics.

In their published paper, Dr Kaur and the team, looked at 233 students, both academically average and gifted, aged 11 to 16 years including Mount Lawley High School. The programs were delivered by both female and male presenters with different groups of students, from Year 7-10; each group used similar materials and testing. To measure the change in students' attitudes and conceptual understanding of Einsteinian physics, they were required to complete carefully designed questionnaires.

According to Dr Kaur, one striking observation was that, following the programs, the female students had equal or more positive attitudes towards physics than their counterparts. While all the students showed significant improvement in conceptual understanding, there was a clear attitudinal difference in gender. In fact, prior to the programs, the females' attitudes were significantly lower than the males. "We had not set out to make the program gender-friendly, but the challenge of teaching a topic that many senior physicists had told us was not suitable for young people made us design classes that were highly interactive and full of group activities. We believe that this influenced the females to respond so strongly—not because Einsteinian concepts are somehow more favoured by females. Whatever the cause, it was most exciting to realise that our curriculum could help to close the gender gap in science!"

Student's article:

On Monday Mrs Colasante's Year Seven SVAPA science class was filmed by the ABC news channel about opportunities to expand the current school science curriculum. For the past ten weeks we have had the privilege of having the esteemed guest, Mr Shon Boublil from UWA. He has been co- teaching Einsteinian physics along with Mrs Colasante our classroom teacher. Our class was filmed during one of our science lessons, with a lycra spacetime simulator to understand the universe through Kepler's 3 ideas. Everyone has enjoyed having the ABC news come to showcase our learning.

Freda and Heide Year  7 SVAPA

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The ABC program can be viewed here on YouTube -

Or on the ABC website at