Math Mondays: Girls and Math

The smaller proportion of girls in S.T.E.M.(science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has been an important discussion topic for years. Last year Google and other tech giants were derided not only for their lack of minorities but also women in engineering positions.  Women made up less than 20% of engineering positions at Google at the time.  

A recent study suggests that in part the lack of women in the S.T.E.M. (and in particular tech) pipeline goes way back to elementary school. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a study that shows that teacher gender bias in elementary school has a long term affect on enrollment in advanced level math classes which affects later occupational selection. 

In short, elementary teachers unconscious bias positively affects boys' enrollment in higher level math course work and negatively affects girls enrollment in advanced level math classes.  Says one of the co-authors:  “The most surprising and I think important finding in the paper is that a biasing teacher affects the work choices students make and whether to study math and science years later."

As a teacher, particularly in secondary, there are ways to encourage girls to enroll in advanced mathematics classes.  A report from the What Works Clearing House (which assembles information from research studies on related topics) suggest the following:

  • Everyone can succeed at math: Teachers should explicitly teach students that academic abilities are expandable and improvable.
  • Specific and prescriptive feedback to instill confidence:  teachers should provide students with prescriptive, informational feedback regarding their performance.  
  • Girls that do math: Teachers should expose to successful women in S.T.E.M. fields to encourage them to see themselves in those fields. 
  • Engaging math activities:  teachers should select activities that engage students in math and science beyond stereotypes. 
  • Spatial skills training: Teachers should provide opportunities for spatial learning.  Spatial skills is associated with achievement in mathematics and science.

In what ways do you encourage girls in your classroom?  Join the discussion below.

Math Mondays is a weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching math.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message on Facebook or at the store in the question and answer section.