PROBLEM SOLVING IS NOT JUST FOR BOYS! LET'S MOVE TOWARD A MORE BALANCED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR OUR CHILDREN
Did you know research studies have revealed that teachers, as well as parents, strongly influence girls' perceptions about their math and computation abilities? Often times, subtle, but damaging acts of preferential treatment go unnoticed in the classroom and at home. Studies have also revealed that women are clearly underrepresented in mathematics, science, and engineering careers in the United States. Disproportionate male participation in these fields also exists at the undergraduate level. Gender and ethnic gaps are found in self-perceptions of ability in and attitudes towards math and science and on "high stakes" tests such as the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. Researchers have found that children's perceptions of math and science predict the pursuit of careers.
Here are some things that both parents and teachers may do to influence girls' self-perceptions about their math abilities:
1. Encourage the boys to play mechanical, analytical, and/or hands-on toys, games, and activities that require intense problem solving (e.g., parents will often teach their sons how to configure puzzles and play chess and not their daughters)
2. Teachers will often call on boys more than they do girls to solve a difficult math problem, and they will wait for a longer period of time until boys solve and complete math problems.
3. Fathers will teach their young sons game plan strategies, help them play, build, and configure things, and challenge them to think in new and different ways, which ultimately prepares them for succeeding in math later on.
4. In class, teachers will often acknowledge and praise boys for correctly answering a math problem. Teachers will also give boys more instructional feedback and more opportunities to help others solve math problems in class. Thus, parents should become concerned when they see more boys acting as peer tutors in class than they see girls. A parent may even want to ask their child's teacher why aren't more girls given opportunties to be math tutors in his or her class.
5. Mothers and caretakers will often let male toddlers play with geometric shapes, blocks, legos, computer software games, and manipulatives. The female toddlers, on the other hand, are handed a bunch of dolls, plastic kitchen utensils, and beauty acessories to play with.
Factors that contribute to gender differences in self-perceptions include parents' lower mathematical expectations for their daughters; math anxiety, and differences in children's own belief systems, e.g., confidence, attributional style, usefulness of the subject. These findings have led to the development and assessment of intervention strategies to address gender, ethnic, and socio-economic gaps. Elements of effective strategies include: Developing mathematical concepts and skills using "girl-friendly" examples; role modeling by women in math and science fields; targeting youth at critical times during their development; utilizing small-group learning; and providing adult mentoring.
What Parents and Teachers Can Do
Stop gender-biased learning. Don't convince your children that some games and activities are for girls and others are for boys. Encourage your daughters as well as your sons to problem solve, think critically, strategize, use creative thinking, and to be self-sufficient and independent learners.
Reference (for full article and complete list of references):
Gilbert, M.C., Reid, P.T., & Marzolf, K. (2004). Improving adolescent girls' math self-perceptions, Academic Exchange Quarterly Publication.
Note: Parts of this thread was extracted from the article written above (see reference).