The enrollment in AP Physics seems to be missing a crucial demographic: girls. At Governor Livingston High School, girls comprise 48% of enrollment in all AP science classes. However, this percentage is not representative of the science courses in which girls actually enroll. AP Biology and AP Environmental Science are full of female students, but AP Physics I only has six.
There is no substantiated reason for why only six girls are taking AP Physics courses. But some faculty members and students agree that girls either do not believe they need physics for their future college majors or careers. Others think students lack the confidence to take the harder classes.
With an already heavy course load, junior Victoria Mauri decided not to take AP Physics I. She said, “I heard it was a lot of work, and I knew I was taking AP Chemistry and did not want to stress myself out.”
This mindset seems to be a main contributor to the lack of girls in AP Physics classes.
Junior Gretchen Probst said that “I want to go into the medical field, most likely majoring in nursing. I know that I would need to take some chemistry related classes and not physics in college. I did not feel like it was worth it to take AP Physics because I would not use it in my career path.”
Other girls decided to take AP Physics because of the skills it required, the vigor of the class, and their peers’ opinions of the class. Sophomore Gianna Ciccimara said she decided to enroll in this class upon recommendations of former students. She said, “As a freshman, I went to the meeting for the course and heard such good comments about it. I had such a desire to join it after hearing positive feedback.”
Dawn Buchan, who teaches AP Physics II, said, “Most people look at their career goals and see that if they want to go to Med school. AP Bio looks better.”
Female students would rather enroll in the AP class they presume will help them in med school. However, according to Daniel McGovern, the AP Physics I and C teacher, “Physics is important for future doctors because it is also on the MCATs.” The MCAT test is for those who wish to apply to medical school.
Kathleen Agnostak, honors physics teacher, notes that the district is encouraging more girls to take physics. She said, “In middle school they are trying to get girls interested through robotics.”
Not to mention, clubs at Columbia Middle School like robotics or TWIST, an all girls club that works on experiments and other science related projects, get more girls interested in STEM earlier, fostering a lifelong passion.
Agnostak added that the advisors of the Robotics Club at Columbia Middle School are working with the high school teachers to boost interest in the sciences. “[They] brought girls up to the high school and showed them that it's not just STEM skills. Communication and organization skills are necessary.” By introducing students at a younger age to these programs, they are more likely to take an interest and continue.
Agnostak also encourages her current students to pursue physics. She finds students who might show an interest in science and talks to them about what they need to know about the courses for their future and why they should take AP physics 2.
However, she does notice the majority of these people are boys. She accounted for this fact by saying many students are “intimidated by AP Physics and that the girls have a lot less confidence, which translates into them not taking AP.” This is why AP Physics seems to be the one class girls are not enrolling in.
Providing students with a teacher to connect to and look up to is an important factor in getting them to take these courses. James Finley, supervisor of the science department, said, “The teaching staff in the science department is split 50-50 between males and females.” He added that the female teachers in the science department are “strong role models for girls in science.”
The school has great ways for girls to be motivated and supported in STEM classes and activities. Now, they just need to get those students to gain the confidence to enroll in those higher level physics classes.