Despite the fact that women earn more college degrees than men today, there’s still a huge gender gap in math, science, and engineering-related fields. Until the last few decades, the scientific community believed that boys were inherently more gifted at mathematics because of their brain makeup while girls were naturally better at verbal communication. While we women definitely have the gift of gab, I believe we’re also just as capable when it comes to crunching numbers.
So, is it biology that makes girls shy away from advanced math courses, or is it our culture? Culture definitely plays a role. Whether it’s the “Math is Hard” Barbie from the 1990s or the “I’m too pretty to do math, so my brother does it for me” tee-shirts from 2000′s, our culture gives young girls the message that math is hard, bad, geeky, no fun, unpopular, unattractive, etc. The list goes on. From the time they begin to totter, little boys are given legos and simple machines to tinker with and they begin to develop math skills. Boys are often encouraged to pursue math more than girls as they go through school. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Girls don’t develop the basics as strongly as boys, which makes advanced math classes more difficult. Their natural conclusion is that they aren’t good at math. How would this be different if we taught our girls that math was cool and reinforced math concepts as thoroughly in our little ladies as we did with our lads? Would things be different if teachers made math fun, relevant, and interesting? What would the world be like if our kids looked up to smart, sexy, accomplished female mathematicians and astronauts instead of movie stars and reality-tv actresses?
I hated math as a young girl. I found it really, really hard. I also discovered that I could get away with skipping math practice (mostly) and focus on my passion: writing. I was in 3rd grade and I had this figured out! I wish that my teachers had insisted I focus on my math problems and truly learn the basics (instead, I made them cute poems and stories and they let me off the hook). Guess what happened? My more advanced classes were really, really hard because I didn’t understand the basics. Because I didn’t get it, I didn’t pursue math and science. It wasn’t until I was required to take math in college that I really learned the basics of math.
My daughter determined last year (in kindergarten!) that she hated math.It was hard, and she’d much rather spend her time writing. Sound familiar? This was not a good trend. Fortunately for her, I saw her repeating my same mistakes and vowed to change that. Math was about to become a big part of our lives. We began practicing it daily, making it fun. We quiz for prizes. She loves IXL.com, because she can earn rewards there too. We made math hands-on and interesting, relevant and engaging. There are no lectures or boring drills here. We combine workbooks with online instruction, quiz cards with math bingo. We learn skip-counting songs and make fractions and basic math skills a part of our daily life. Math because easier and easier. Alex got faster and more proficient. Math became…. Fun.
Math is one of our BIG THREE subjects we study every single school morning before lunch: foreign language, math, and reading/ phonics. The more we practice, the easier it gets. Alex not only enjoys it, but she’s getting very good! She’s finished ½ of her Horizons math program and 75% of the first grade work on IXL.com. She keeps telling me it’s too easy! Hooray! We’re just about ready to make the big switch to Second Grade.
Do you know what my former math-loather did during math period today? She did five lessons on IXL.com: Subtraction skill builders, probability and statistics (mode and range), Roman numerals (I, V, X), Adding and subtracting 10′s, and addition and subtraction facts up to 10. Then, she accomplished two lessons out of our Horizons book: ordinal numbers and subtraction word problems. To top it off, she begged to play a few rounds of math bingo and won a heaping pile of coins for her piggy bank. There was no complaining… apart from saying “This stuff is too easy!” That is music to my ears. I love hearing that what we’re doing is too easy, because we can always go up a level. What I never want to hear from my daughters is that math is too hard!
How can American girls become math superstars? It starts at home. Whether you homeschool or not, parents make all the difference. Encourage your daughter to love math and science. Engage her in fun learning games. Buy her science kits if she likes. If she struggles, find her a great tutor who can make math relevant and interesting. Abstract concepts are boring to young kids. If math is touchable, it’s relevant. Talk to her about math stereotypes and teach her why they aren’t true. Laugh at the silly myths together. Introduce her to real female scientists and mathematicians, not the geeky stereotypes on tv (in person is awesome, but stories and books work too). Let her know that she is just as good as any boy when it comes to number computation. Who knows. Maybe the next generation of girls will help bring America’s math scores out of the tank.
I don’t care if my girls become engineers or astronauts. They don’t have to major in mathematics in college. But… I want them to have the skills necessary should they wish to pursue those dreams. I want them to be prepared to make the most out of their lives and want them to have the ability to reach their goals. Isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?
- Girls Can Do Math, Too! (blogs.sfweekly.com)
- Math Worksheets and Printables (education.com)
- Subtraction Worksheets and Printables (education.com)
- Second Grade Worksheets and Printables (education.com)
- Children’s Math Ability In The Future Can Be Predicted At Preschool (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Girls And Math (realmathinaminute.wordpress.com)