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How girls are discouraged from performing well in math

Here's an awesome statistic: In 2013, 57 percent of students earning bachelor's degrees were women (yay, girl power!). However only 43 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees were taken home by women, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. Why? Females are often discouraged from pursuing these types of careers via unintentional messages put forth by entertainment media, news media and school.

Girls are subtly discouraged 

According to Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University and founder of youcubed, girls aren't given enough incentive to study math. The concept that you "have it or you don't" is sometimes implied at school, which doesn't inspire girls (or any student, really) to work hard and follow their dreams. Additionally, often in entertainment media, female characters are not shown in STEM careers and for many, you can't be what you can't see.

Girls have a hard time connecting math to their daily lives 

Part of the problem is the way math is taught. Girls tend to have a better understanding of subjects that show connections, but math isn't taught in a way that enables students to connect with the subject, or make connections between the subject and the real world. For example, a teacher asks students to find the area of an 8 x 3 rectangle. There is only one answer: 24. Instead, the teacher could ask students to find as many different rectangles as possible with an area of 24. Students are more inclined to be excited about math when they have the opportunity to make choices. 

Stanford conducted a study with 81 students to test new teaching methods; it analyzed whether the increase in students' ability to retain information was significant with these new methods. The results showed creative math lessons were taught to the students and, after less than three weeks, students performed 1.5 grade levels higher than before. 

Girls' math-related anxiety in the classroom stunts their intellectual growth

Another problem is anxiety in classrooms. Timed math tests put students under pressure to perform for speed, not accuracy. The more anxious students are about math, the more discouraged they are in their own abilities. 

How we can change it

We need to change the way we interact with math. Talk to your teacher about the possibility of having more conceptual math lessons, like projects and real-world problems that allow you to apply the information. You can also make math more fun at home, trying to discover different ways to solve problems and connecting what you're learning in class to your personal life. The big take-away: Believe in yourself. It changes the way your brain operates, Boaler says. 

Do you like math? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments! 

by Julia Bonney | 10/20/2016
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