Girls Divided, Girls Multiplied

Make Your Daughter Practice Math. She'll Thank You Later. by Barbara Oakley
New York Times, August 7, 2018

Math is essential for entering STEM fields, but girls are less likely to succeed at math. This pithy article provides a perspective on the source of the problem and how to address it. While abundant research suggests that, on average, boys and girls have similar abilities in math, girls are likely to think that they are not good at math. For girls, self-perceived ability affects academic performance, and that is the crux of the problem. Girls naturally excel in language arts, sometimes leading them to think that they are not capable in math. Thinking you are not good at something often discourages pursuing the subject, so girls may gravitate to the language arts and avoid practicing math. The result is that they then lack a foundation for higher math and fail to establish the neural pathways necessary for success. Schools exacerbate the problem if early on they focus on conceptual understanding sacrificing drill and practice. The writer of this opinion piece, Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering and author of a book and acclaimed Massive Open Online Course on learning, argues for teaching the fundamentals in math with parental encouragement to practice, especially for girls. While Oakley’s explanation is compelling, some may argue that drill and memorization are certain to discourage math study and that being hardwired in math is what makes the difference. Schools may want to explore how math is being taught in the early grades, using this article to spark a lively discussion.

Submitted By: Pearl Rock Kane, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY

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