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Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Factors that affect girls in math

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From: Mary Lou

To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2000120715:19:22
Subject: Factors that affect girls in math

We can also show that more men than women go on to professional
careers in music, yet girls achievement levels are equal in the
elementary years. I am not writing this to be sarcastic but rather to
say that at younger ages both girls and boys are high achievers in
many areas. As the students age they choose areas that are of interest
to them.  
In the past half century there has been concern that girls have been
denied access to areas that do interest them: such as research
science, medicine, law. Presently, we see that women are seeking these
careers.  The concern about girls in science and mathematics is
serious because it is about the time that girls become interested in
boys that serious study of math and science begins: grade 8 or 9.  
The academic interests of girls change because their approach to study
changes. Young teenage girls are for the most part not openly
competitive.  Yes, they are competitive but in their own manner. They
like to share their ideas, compare their ideas and test their ideas.
In short: young girls are good team players. Young boys go for the
answer! Young girls go for the process.
What has this to do with the achievement of young women? When the
atmosphere of the academic setting is contra to their style of
learning and discourse, they choose not to pursue such learning.  
They find areas that are less stressful for them and that compliment
their talents.  Is this true of all young girls? No, but it is true of
many young girls.
How do teachers change the gender makeup of their upper level math
and science courses?  I believe that they change the environment, the
traditional competitive, fast pace to accomodate different learning
styles.  Innovative methods of inquiry, less stress on quick response
solutions, and alternative solutions help young women.  
As a teacher of highly talented juniors, I found that the teacher who
subsequently taught them always told me that my students spent so much
time explaining and approaching a problem!   
I took that as a compliment while it was not meant to be. 


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