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Defining Equality: Gendered Patterms of Advanced High School Course-Taking
Unformatted Document Text:  Defining Equality: Gendered Patterns of Advanced High School Course-taking . . . 4 Understanding the Structure of Science Course-taking High school course-taking patterns are often categorized in terms of course sequences, where individual courses that are part of a larger unified subject are taught by progressive level of difficulty throughout each year of high school (Schneider et al 1998; Stevenson et al 1994). This makes sense for math, where course-taking can be clearly conceptualized in terms of a hierarchical sequence of courses beginning with Algebra, and continuing with courses in Geometry and ultimately Trigonometry and Calculus (Schiller and Hunt 2001; Stevenson et al 1994). In the common progression of math classes, skills and concepts build on one another throughout the sequence, meaning curricula in one class must be mastered before students can successfully move on to the next course in the sequence. Calculus stands clearly as the most advanced high school math class available to students. In contrast, science courses in high school follow less of a hierarchal pattern of curriculum. Students are required to take fewer years of science in high school, which subsequently makes course-taking decisions more elective. Courses in science are also relatively distinct by subject area, such as biological or physical science, and thus are less clearly organized in terms of a course sequence (Barden and Lederman 1998). Although Chemistry often precedes Physics, this order is the consequence of school prerequisites rather than the inherent progression of material presented in each course. Nevertheless, when examining student course-taking patterns in science, the focus is students’ completion of a sequence consisting of Biology, Chemistry, and ultimately Physics as the most advanced course (see for example, NCES 2001; AAUW 1998). Much as Calculus represents the top of the mathematics sequence, the course at the top of the science sequence is Physics. There are several reasons why Physics is commonly regarded as the most advanced science class offered in high school. Within the discipline of science, physics is often viewed as having the most prestige (Traweek 1988). This can be partially attributed to the national focus on

Authors: Riegle-Crumb, Catherine.
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Defining Equality: Gendered Patterns of Advanced High School Course-taking . . .
4
Understanding the Structure of Science Course-taking
High school course-taking patterns are often categorized in terms of course sequences,
where individual courses that are part of a larger unified subject are taught by progressive level of
difficulty throughout each year of high school (Schneider et al 1998; Stevenson et al 1994). This
makes sense for math, where course-taking can be clearly conceptualized in terms of a
hierarchical sequence of courses beginning with Algebra, and continuing with courses in
Geometry and ultimately Trigonometry and Calculus (Schiller and Hunt 2001; Stevenson et al
1994). In the common progression of math classes, skills and concepts build on one another
throughout the sequence, meaning curricula in one class must be mastered before students can
successfully move on to the next course in the sequence. Calculus stands clearly as the most
advanced high school math class available to students.
In contrast, science courses in high school follow less of a hierarchal pattern of
curriculum. Students are required to take fewer years of science in high school, which
subsequently makes course-taking decisions more elective. Courses in science are also relatively
distinct by subject area, such as biological or physical science, and thus are less clearly organized
in terms of a course sequence (Barden and Lederman 1998). Although Chemistry often precedes
Physics, this order is the consequence of school prerequisites rather than the inherent progression
of material presented in each course.
Nevertheless, when examining student course-taking patterns in science, the focus is
students’ completion of a sequence consisting of Biology, Chemistry, and ultimately Physics as
the most advanced course (see for example, NCES 2001; AAUW 1998). Much as Calculus
represents the top of the mathematics sequence, the course at the top of the science sequence is
Physics. There are several reasons why Physics is commonly regarded as the most advanced
science class offered in high school. Within the discipline of science, physics is often viewed as
having the most prestige (Traweek 1988). This can be partially attributed to the national focus on


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