Friday, June 26, 2009

Girls and Math

TwitThis


Last month I spent 30 minutes of a 50 minute tutoring session
trying to teach a 12 year old year the common denominator.

Often times, as a tutor, it is hard to teach a young person
what
you take for granted for knowing, almost intuitively.

But somewhere in the distant past, someone hung in there
with
me, so show me the common denominator.

When I noticed that she just started guessing answers I said,
"I know that you can do this work, you just have
to take you
time and follow the rules. Math is a language, and it
is linear,
you cannot guess at the correct answer.
Learn the steps,
and follow them every time
and you will get the correct answer.
I know that you know how to do this."


A week later, I was tutoring another young lady, 12, with a
higher
math capacity, but get this, she was still visibly
uncomfortable
doing the work.


I mentioned this to another tutor and her response
was,
"Yeah, the girls think that math is for boys."

The more I paid attentive the more I noticed, that the girls,

regardless of capacity to do the work, looked really uncomfortable
doing the work.


So I started paying attention to the boys. Some of them, ranging in

ages from 9-12, were better than others, many were on grade level

and many where by behind.
But, what stuck out to me was
their tendency and will to sit there
through the tedium of doing 12
triple digit multiplication problems, 15 fraction conversation
problems, and 10 long division problems.


Page after tedious page, some grumble, some were right at home.

I realized that doing math problems is a kind of meditation.
When I told Birkhold about the distinction he said that math is
a
masculine gender performance and that there have been
oodles
of studies on math, girls and gender performance.

He also said that girls being scared of math is part and parcel to
the maintenance of women being oppressed and maintaining
capitalism.
I just looked at him like whhhhutuuuuuuuut?

He responded saying that the two engines of capitalism are
entrepreneurship
and scientific and techonological advances.
You need math in order
to do all of these successfully. So, by
making it the domain of men,
we undermine the future
prosperity of girls.


Who knew?

Math and Girls any thoughts?

Teach any young people math lately?

What was the outcome?

What are three material changes that
we can make to change math education for
children in general and girls specifically?

18 comments:

the prisoner's wife said...

i teach English, everyday...but on occasion i have had to help some of my students with Math. i haven't seen squeamish math girls, though. i've see ALL my 7th graders, boys & girls, struggle with math. some of the smartest kids (of my students) in math have been girls, but i've heard that girls underperform because they're discouraged to do well in math & also science. perhaps we are just not as...linear, we are more expressive. or perhaps it's because women/girls are encouraged to be great communicators, which is a skill associated with the arts. *shrugs*

when i started college i was a business major. i quickly got bored (esp. with the math classes) & switched to English, which i excelled at. English was more challenging because i had the room to THINK and form my own opinion. Math....it never changes. what's fun about that? LOL

arieswym said...

I graduated from undergrad last year with an engineering degree and I think part of the problem is the larger acceptance of being "math-dumb." It is accepted and seen as reasonable if you can't balance your checkbook or understand simple math that occurs in everyday life. Meanwhile it is not socially acceptable to be illiterate or to not be able to conduct oneself in English.

Even in college, at least at my alma mater (Rutgers), you have to pass a college level English composition class to receive a bachelors' degree, from any of its undergraduate schools. However, you do not have to pass a college level math class to receive your degree. In spite of the increasing need for math, due to the rapid technological changes, the lack of math was upheld in the 2006/7 revision of the school's curriculum.

I think this is a broader thought about math that undoubtedly affects females.

M.Dot. said...

@ TPW
but i've heard that girls underperform because they're discouraged to do well in math & also science. perhaps we are just not as...linear, we are more expressive. or perhaps it's because women/girls are encouraged to be great communicators, which is a skill associated with the arts. *shrugs*
=====
Yes we are discouraged, but fuck that.
I/ and I would imagine You have been encouraged and discouraged.
Let me share I how I got better at math.
Last summer, I started reading philosophy, Hegel, Sarte. I found that THIS SHIT sounded just like the law text. And I knocked myself on the head and said DUH, American Legal reasoning principals are based on Western philosophy, you learn one, it informs both.

As a teacher, what are three things we can do to help the young bucks?

@areiswymn
Thank you for stopping by and responding

I think this is a broader thought about math that undoubtedly affects females.
===
So you are saying that the Soft Bigotry of Low expectations has a disparate impact on Girls.
Okay. I see you.

What are three things we can do to change it.
Three, tangible, things?

thelady said...

I have a degree in engineering although I have never worked as an engineer. Who would have thought it would be easier to earn an engineering degree than to find employment as an engineer. I now work as a librarian. Go figure.
Anyway I definitely experienced hostility from male classmates, especially when doing group work. If I figured out the answer first or had a better understanding of the project some men reacted with anger and frustration. They couldn't verbalize why they were angry at me because that would require them to admit I knew something they didn't. These were always situations where we would be sharing a grade so it is not as if they were in direct competition with me.

While working on our senior design project we had a team mate who had no clue what was going on and often created more work for the rest of us. I was in the group with 3 males. 1 male refused to talk to him. The 2nd male yelled at him. I was frustrated but tried to speak to him in a respectful manner. He complained to the guy who yelled at him about me! Said he didn't get why I was so mean and angry towards him.

M.Dot. said...

Really, you are an engineering bear?

What kind? Chemical, civil...
Quasi Personal questions?
Do you have a mentor?
Are they men/women/ Asian/Black....

thank you for commenting?

Do you want to work as an engineer?

How can we improve this work for girls?

the prisoner's wife said...

1 major thing we could do....eradicated the culture of failure & low expectations many of our kids grow up in & buy into. once that's out the window? stop overcrowding inner city schools with fresh out the program teachers who have NO clue what the real is. oh and, untie our hands.

M.Dot. said...

Ahhh. TPW..

I hear you on eradicate etc...Im gonna push back a bit...Because thinking about 100 V be hurting sometimes...so imma pass it along. Big {TEEF}smile. I mean, real tangible changes...meaning that if you could implement THREE Things tomorrow...If I could lobby The Fed for you this fall, what are three changes you would like to see.

I get you on the systemic...I ride for that.
I am looking for small, tangible...3 things.

Vee (Scratch) said...

"But, what stuck out to me was their tendency and will to sit there through the tedium " . . .
"he said that math is a masculine gender performance and that there have been oodles of studies on math, girls and gender performance."
Crap and BS.

Math is a universal language, period. We all understand and can grasp simple relationships like rich and poor. Some one has amassed a wealth of resource while another has difficulty purchasing milk. Boys and girls understand this.

For the record, I just don't buy into the whole train of thought concerning Math is linear, not fun or expressive. Nor do I buy into that's the reason why women do not excel in math because they're not as logical as men, they're more emotional and more expressive. I just finished Steve Harvey's book and throughout his advice book he enforces the notion that men are not expressive or emotional, yet his freaking industry is filled with VERY expressive and emotional men.

If you have A-holes, like the current president of Harvard saying sexist crap about women in sciences and math, I'm sure that would discourage young women from deciding to pursue that course of study. Math can be a very creative and enriching course of study. It can some times require new ways of thinking and approaching complex problems. After all, who entered the work force as engineers, specifically programmers doing tedious work during WWI and WWII?

Set the expectations low and you will get piss-poor results. Encourage, support and set high expectations and watch boys and girls flourish. I often hear crap like girls are more organized and studious than boys . .. so I guess that just doesn't apply in math and sciences? And if there's a girl or girls that are just simply not interested in math or science, that does not say much about their ability. Oh yeah, BTW, it pretty much sounds like . .. "blacks just don't have the capacity to process complex information"

. . . oh yeah, I LOVE Math. Teaching math and getting kids to understand fractions .. . no problem - just talk. Differential and Integral Calculus, nah mang.

Model Minority said...

Hey V.

"But, what stuck out to me was their tendency and will to sit there through the tedium " . . .
"he said that math is a masculine gender performance and that there have been oodles of studies on math, girls and gender performance."
Crap and BS.

Math is a universal language, period.
==========
It may be a universal language,
but it is also gender formed.
If it isn't gender performance, then
explain why many girls think that
"math is for boys".


For the record, I just don't buy into the whole train of thought concerning Math is linear, not fun or expressive.
=====
You don't have to "buy into it" it is what it is.

Nor do I buy into that's the reason why women do not excel in math because they're not as logical as men, they're more emotional and more expressive.
=====
Please show me where I said we were more emotional V.
Sounds to me like you are responding to a post I didn't write. Lols.

I just finished Steve Harvey's book and throughout his advice book he enforces the notion that men are not expressive or emotional, yet his freaking industry is filled with VERY expressive and emotional men.
=====
I read Steves book and what he said is that most men are SOCIALIZED to not express emotions
which is in in fact true.

Perhaps you should think about the difference between someone being socialized to be something and someone BEING something.
That is a material difference.

If you have A-holes, like the current president of Harvard saying sexist crap about women in sciences and math
====
Larry Summers, the former President of Harvard and former treasury secy, and current Obama appointee (yes your president appointed him) I'm sure that would discourage young women from deciding to pursue that course of study.



Set the expectations low and you will get piss-poor results.
===
I agree.


Encourage, support and set high expectations and watch boys and girls flourish. I often hear crap like girls are more organized and studious than boys . .. so I guess that just doesn't apply in math and sciences?
====
So you don't agree that girls
are not socialized to think that
math is for boys.
If no, based on what?


Waves....Cantankerous Morning...no?

Vee (Scratch) said...

I never heard young girls outright say Math is for boys. And I've talked to several women engineers in the past, for the most part they acknowledge sexism but I haven't heard Math is for boys.

Math is Not FUN!?!! I'm flabbergasted. :-) Ok, I'll admit one of my friends told me I was weird like that.

---
"Nor do I buy into that's the reason why women do not excel in math because they're not as logical as men, they're more emotional and more expressive."
. . . I wasn't taking a jab at you, just the conventional explanations I hear from folks.

---
Harvey probably made the distinction about being socialized once, throughout the book he more or less says "that men are not built like that," not verbatim.

---
So you don't agree that girls
are not socialized to think that
math is for boys.

I'll have to say no and I don't know.
In grade school throughout college I did not see or hear examples to suggest that. Many women enter fields like accounting. I'll admit very few enter engineering . .. so I'll just say I don't know until further evidence proves otherwise. But, I didn't see it growing up.

. . . I forgot to take my happy pill!

JP said...

I too hold an Engineering degree and work as one. I think the issue is how math is taught more than the Math itself. Women prefer to deal with the interface between the thing they are studing and the world, which is why women tend to make better writers/communicators/project managers than men. Men can deal with the abstraction of working on a problem who's solution that may turn out to be not important to the world on it's face. Of course this is broad generalization but I think it's part of what I saw not only in school, but in the work force. Math and other sci/tech subjects tend to be taught in a completely disconnected manner from what happens in the real world.

Model Minority said...

JP are you a lady, gentlement or gender non identifying?

I ask, just to contextualize.

By saying "women prefer to _____" are speaking of all women which is quite Darwinian and problematic.

It would be just as problematic to say "Black people prefer to ____."

However, as an engineer you arguably know more about how gender and math is performed than I do.

So I ask, what about how the ways in which girls and boys are socialized as children may lead women to want to interface with the thing that they are studying and the world?

What about the way in which boys are socialized would influence their willingness to think abstractly.

Personally I come from a unique place.
I did well in math until 6th grade, then I did horribly. I was placed in too far advanced of a 7th grade math class and I never really caught up.

I have not attended a public school since middle school in East Oakland 1992.

However, in studying for the GRE last November I found that having been in law school and having recently read philosophy the rhythm of math felt more at home. It became clear the ways in which philosophy, the law, and math are related AND abstract.


Based on my experience, I would conclude that the issue is ONE of expsoure not one of innate ability.

We KNOW how to do what we are taught to do, nothing more, nothing less.

JP said...

I'm a boy Model. I think that socialization plays a large role. Children often pick their life direction based on what they see around them(media, family, etc). The most prominent engineering/techincal types are men. I suspect this is not lost on young girls who may then shy away. The people in high school who are excelling at Math are often your nerdy boys, the nerdy girl stereotype is a girl who is avid reader. I think often women grow out of this those who idea that math isn't important in college/or in the workforce. For example, I recently reconnected with an old girl friend from college. When we dated she had trouble with basic algebra that she was required to take as part of her business degree. She's now a Six Sigma specialist which is very statistics intensive. I asked her what changed and she said people explain it to me better.

Model Minority said...

JP, thank you for responding.

Please, call me M.dot or Renina.

The people in high school who are excelling at Math are often your nerdy boys, the nerdy girl stereotype is a girl who is avid reader.
====
ME. Raises hand.

I think often women grow out of this those who idea that math isn't important in college/or in the workforce.
=====
In light of this what did you think of my idea about Capitalism, oppression and women.
W/ entrepreneurship and scientific development being the engines of American Cap.

For example, I recently reconnected with an old girl friend from college. When we dated she had trouble with basic algebra that she was required to take as part of her business degree. She's now a Six Sigma specialist which is very statistics intensive. I asked her what changed and she said people explain it to me better.
======
So true.
I got Winne Coopers (Danica McKellers) Math Doesn't Suck to take refresh my math for the GRE and once I got the hang of it, there was such a rhythm to it, that I wanted to do math more.
I am also a decent Spanish speaker, infact, as a waitress, I find myself TALKING to myself in Spanish, which bugs my co workers out.
Because, I am Black, and they are white. LOl.

Math, like Spanish, like the Law, like Philosophy are all languages.

"People explained it to me better."
Yup.

The hell is a Six Sigma specialist.
Sounds all nerdy hot and good. Big {TEEF} Smile.

JP said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Sigma

They do a better job at explaining that I could ever hope. She works for a huge construction company and applies it to their supply chain, things like where are my PVC pipes the plumbers are here and we're paying them to stand around, how do we fix that so it doesn't happen again.

Capitism requires entrepenurship and technological innovation to survive, this is no doubt. The reason it thrives is that it encourages risk and advance. A communist society could never invent say Google because there is no incentive for anyone to take the risk of failing at a venture like that because they would be no reward. The desire for people to get filthy rich leads to a ton of creativity and risk taking that keeps the engine moving.

JP said...

As per the the oppression aspect, I'm not so sure I'm willing to go there. I don't think girls are intimidated out of math, or that the language/communication skills are any less important in a project. The way most things get built is a group of people get together and work on a problem. The communication skills in order to make that happen tend to be supplied by women. Perhaps it's time that the culture recognizes those skills and celebrates them as much as they do the guy who sits in the corner and invents something all by himself. I know as an engineer i'm often only as good as my project manager and she's only as good as I am. If either one of sucks the project fails.

aconerlycoleman said...

I'm so late, but I just found your blog. Loving it, btw.

I HATE that math is gendered male despite being a universal language. It is for that very reason that I help teach an after-school program fot 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade girls from disdavantaged backgrounds. The focus isn't just math, but we teach them about science, technology, and computer literacy. It is essential to empower these girls through the attainment of knowledge and skills.

Model Minority said...

Heeey ACC,

Glad you stopped by.

The work sounds AWESOME. Every little bit counts.

Women do 2/3rds of the worlds work for 1/10th of the pay. (Quoted from Feminism W/O Borders.)

~R

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