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Curriculum Catch-Up


Girls Grammar is a small, independent, non-denominational, girls only, Prep to Year 12 school with boarding. This positions our girls in the enviable position of having both continuity and connection across their schooling years. Whilst all aspects contribute to this unique experience, I would argue that being girls only is the most important contributor. As discussed in previous articles, I would say that even though single sex education by itself has factors aiding learning (such as calm environments), it is pedagogy that makes the most profound difference. A study on language in science education published in January 2021 (For Girls, “Just” Just Isn’t Scientific, Phys. Teach. 59, 19 (2021, Umairia Malik, David Low, and Kate Wilson; https://doi.org/10.1119/10.0003009) showed the difference thoughtful language choices can make for girls. Consider the following multiple-choice question from a Physics examination for which B. is the correct answer.


Why do raindrops fall with near-constant speed during the later stages of their descent?

A. The gravitational force is the same for all raindrops.

B. Air resistance just balances the force of gravity.

C. The drops all fall from the same height.

D. The force of gravity is negligible for objects as small as raindrops.

E. Gravity cannot increase the speed of a falling object to more than 9.8 ms-1.


Over a six-year period of implementation it was found that male students averaged 88%, while female students averaged only 59% resulting in a performance gap of 29%. Writers thought that female students may be misinterpreting the question due to the repeated use of the plural ‘raindrops’ rather than the singular ‘raindrop’. The question was then rephrased.


Why does a raindrop fall with near-constant speed during the later stages of its descent?

A. The gravitational force is constant.

B. Air resistance just balances the force of gravity.

C. The height from which the raindrop started falling is fixed in space.

D. The force of gravity is negligible for objects as small as a raindrop.

E. Gravity cannot increase the speed of a falling object to more than 9.8 ms-1.


Males now averaged 78% and females 50% for a performance gap of 28%. Clearly, this change did not serve its purpose with both genders doing worse. Researchers then implemented a small-scale version of the first version of the question with 12 male and 5 female students. Every male answered the question correctly and every female answered incorrectly. The inevitable discussions that followed revealed that the female students did not trust the word ‘just’ in this scientific context. The males did not even particularly notice the use of ‘just’. This led to version 3.


Why does a raindrop fall with near-constant speed during the later stages of its descent?

A. The gravitational force is constant.

B. The air resistance balances the force of gravity.

C. The height from which the raindrop starts falling is fixed in space.

D. The force of gravity is negligible for objects as small as a raindrop.

E. Gravity cannot increase the speed of a falling object to more than 9.8 ms-1.


The implementation of this version resulted in males achieving 83% and females 76% which lowered the performance gap to 7%. The work done in removing unconscious bias for females highlights the differences in the way girls and boys think and how they interpret language. It shows the need for deliberate thought about how girls are taught and assessed.


By immersing girls in single sex education at Girls Grammar, your daughters receive an education tailored specifically to them. Their teachers use pedagogy tailored to girls and your daughters experience the academic difference that comes with that.


Dr John Fry

Deputy Principal - Studies

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