“Math class is tough!” proclaimed Mattel’s talking barbie to the outrage of many parents. Mattel no longer produces this barbie, but the controversy surrounding her prolific truth rages on. Traditional convention relies on the assertion that “boys are better at math and girls are better at reading.” But is that really true?
Many scientists believe that there are differences between the male and female brains, but the source of those differences is what’s at the root of math/science debate. Some say that girl’s lack of interest in math and science is influenced by cultural differences. For example, girls tend to do better in all-girl schools in both math and science than those in typical mixed grade schools. Others take a strictly biological stance in that the differences in how boys and girls learn is rooted in the psyche. Proponents of the biological model contend that girls and boys brains are wired differently from birth, and thus, able to digest and manage information differently.
The most recent research, according to The Economist, has made the link to “culture” more prominent. Dr. Luigi Guiso of the European University Institute in Florence most recent discovery that cultural inequality explains most of the “math” gap between boys and girls in different countries. Upon studying almost 300,000 15-year olds from 40 different countries, Dr. Luigi and his team found that in countries with high levels of sexual equality, scores in mathematics were almost identical for girls and boys.
Regardless of whether the cause of lower math and science scores among girls is biological or cultural, parents can help their daughters overcome stereotypes by providing guidance and encouraging them to excel in “traditional boy” subjects. And who knows, maybe Mattel will give their Teen Talking Barbie’s – who spout out around 280 phrases concerning shopping, parties and clothes- to say something worthwhile and meaningful to girls. Maybe “I got an A on my math test!” may echo from Barbie’s lips sooner than we think.
Ways to Get Her Thinking:
• Make math and science fun! Take the time to do fun and creative projects using math and science with your daughter. Experiment with a chemistry set (with adult supervision); teach her to cook using measuring spoons and cups; talk with your daughter about why it rains and snows. You’ll be amazed at how much information she will absorb and it’s a great way for parents to brush up on their own math and science skills!
• Advocate for your daughter in school. Research has shown that teachers still typically favor boys in the areas of math and science (this is often done subconsciously by calling on the more in class, etc.). Make sure your daughter is getting the instruction she needs. Girls need to discuss issues more than boys, so encourage her to ask the teacher for further explanation if she doesn’t understand an experiment or math problem. Meet with your daughter’s teacher for progress reports on ways you both can help her learn.
• Encourage math and science classes. Stress the importance of taking math and science classes. Make sure you stay on top of her grades and get her tutoring if her grades start to slide. Early intervention is key to helping her enjoy and learn math and science.
• Learn along with her. If math and science are your weakness, then why not learn along with your daughter? Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something, just be sure to show enthusiasm about figuring it out with her. Children don’t expect their parents to have all the answers (well, not usually), but you can get “pumped” along with her to learn about the square root of 100 or why the aorta is a necessary part of our heart!
• Role Model. Girls learn by example, so let her know that there are lots of career options available to women in the fields of math and science (i.e. biologists, astronauts, professors, and chemists). Surf the internet for examples of how women have excelled using math and science. If you have a friend who’s career is math or science related, have your daughter talk with him/her to get an idea of what life has to offer. Role models can provide young girls with motivation and the desire to succeed.
• Keep the Message Positive. Remind her that “girls can do anything boys can do – sometimes even better!” Continue to teach your daughter that the sky’s the limit and she can do anything she puts her mind to. As girls enter the preteen and teen years, their self-esteem often plummets as do their interests in math and science. By continually monitoring and motivating your daughter, she’ll hear a positive message about her intelligence and academic abilities.
- Girl "Math" Power – It's About Time!
- An Eggcelent Science Experiment for Easter!
- Does impulsiveness give boys math edge?
- 3 Ways to Teach Your Daughter About Cultural Diversity
- Learn to Like Different—for Better or for Worse