Are Women to Blame for Girls’ Math Anxiety?January 27, 2010
Sitting next to the first lady at the State of the Union address tonight will be a model student in the sciences and engineering. Li Boynton is a semifinalist in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search Award, and the White House is hoping “other students will look at what she has done and will be inspired to immerse themselves in science, engineering, and math.”
If you think Li is just a token girl, think again. You might be surprised to know that women now earn at least half of the bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences (60 percent), agricultural sciences (50 percent), and chemistry (50 percent), and their numbers are on the rise in earth and atmospheric sciences (41 percent) according to the National Science Board. Last year three girls (including Li) took the top prizes at the International Science and Engineering Fair.
Despite these gains, the stereotype of science- and math-oriented professions as male domains persists. Girls may encounter these stereotypes as early as elementary school, especially in math. Sometimes the source of the problem is obvious: Girls may lack role models in these fields, or the subjects may not be taught in a way that sparks their interest.
Yesterday a few colleagues of mine at AAUW were circulating recent research out of the University of Chicago indicating that female teachers themselves might also be part of the problem.
“The more anxious teachers were,” said the researchers, “the more likely their female students but not the boys were to agree that ‘boys are good at math and girls are good at reading.’” Given that dubious beginning, it is no wonder that the percentage of women in computer and mathematical sciences is lower today than in the 1970s.
The upcoming AAUW report to be released in March describes research on how stereotypes and the learning environment can influence girls’ performance in math and offers recommendations for change. There are many resources out there for women interested in acting as role models for girls in math and science. Below are a few of my recent favorites:
National Girls Collaborative Project Program Directory
Contact information for more than 1,500 programs representing 3.5 million girls. More than 60 AAUW-led programs are already included. Is yours?
National Lab Day
Volunteer your expertise to this effort from AAUW and more than 200 other organizations.
GEMS and Let’s Read Math
GEMS, an AAUW-led program, shares how to start a club for girls in your area, while Let’s Read Math provides a short online course on using children’s books to teach math skills.
NCWIT’s Gotta Have IT and Techbridge’s Tool Kit for Role Models
All-in-one resource kits for reaching out to girls. The high-quality posters, icebreakers, career information, and other resources included make your outreach fun and engaging.
Do you have a favorite resource? Please share it with us!
Watch the video featuring Li Boynton.