Debunking the Girls and Math Myth
Have you heard the myth that girls are not good at math? Well, there’s a reason why it’s called a “myth”. It’s because it’s just not true. There can be no blanket statement that girls aren’t good at math, because math skills are influenced by genetics, culture, experience, upbringing and attitudes. There is not much we can do about genetics, but the other four elements are adaptable.
In many cultures around the world, such as India for example, girls are as skilled as boys in math and enter math related jobs at a higher rate than the U.S. Research is also revealing that in the U.S. in programs where the math curriculum is motivating and relevant, there is no gender gap on math test scores. The current cultural push for students to do well in STEM courses is also resulting in more girls enrolling in higher level math classes in the upper grades.
Experience is an important factor for math success, both at school and at home. A math curriculum that emphasizes memorization of math facts and uses speed tests makes math feel shallow and boring. Girls tend to like subjects that are more connected to real life and have depth of meaning. Schools need to examine their math curriculum to make learning math more relevant and stimulating.
Parents may not have much influence over the math curriculum or teaching strategies, but they can have an impact on their daughter’s math experiences at home and in the community. Integrating math into everyday activities shows children the relevance of math, and shows them that math is not just something you do in school. Activities such as how to divide slices of pizza, how to save money to buy a car, or even finding out how the electoral college works makes math relevant.
The final influence on girls and math is attitude. Attitudes of teachers and parents can greatly impact how girls feel about math. Teachers who say, “Math is just not your thing; you’re good at reading” are unknowingly killing the desire to learn and turning girls away from math. In the same way, parents who say, “I was never good at math either;” or “Ask your Dad for help, he’s better at math” are sending a not-so-subtle message that girls are not expected to do well at math.
So what can parents do? Even if the math your daughter brings home is above what you remember how to do, say, “Let’s figure it out together.” Include your daughter in discussions about money, whether it is about the budget, savings, retirement or college. She needs to understand the practical aspects of knowing how to use math to solve problems in life.
Parents can also make learning math fun. Games are a great way to learn and use math skills. The most obvious games of numbers include cards and dice, but almost all board games include math elements such as counting, adding scores, and spatial reasoning. Some games even have a particular focus on specific math skills.
Many SimplyFun games incorporate various math skills across the grades. For example, games for younger children, such as Digger’s Garden Match involve adding and subtracting and Cow Cents requires children to make change with money. For older children, games involve a broader range of math skills. Use SimplyFun’s Advanced Product Search to help you find the math game that meets your specific needs.
Playing such games with your children allows parents to see how their children are approaching various aspects of math and support them in a non-threatening, non-school-related, enjoyable way. Parents can model how to look at a situation, help their child figure out a best solution, and reinforce the child’s abilities with the math skills involved in the game. Who knew? Math can be fun!
About the Author
Dr. Toni Linder is a leader in the field of early childhood development and early childhood special education. She works with children of diverse backgrounds and ability levels, including children that are gifted and talented, who have disabilities or come from backgrounds of poverty, and those from multicultural backgrounds.