Friday Two Cents: Are Boys Better At Math And Science Than Girls?


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Currently I am finishing my Early Childhood Education (ECE) degree and I discovered something many should be made aware of.  I had to look into the an ago old stereotype that says that boys are better that girls when it comes to math and science.  Is this a myth? Well I found something that will make you think twice when dealing with girls when it comes to math & science.

The Myths that boys are better at math and science are just that, Myth.  Girls are as capable as boys to do well in these subjects, however I have discovered there are studies that have shown the difference comes from the teacher teaching the subject.   

If the female teacher teaching the subject has an anxiety about the subject, then this anxiety will be passed on to the same-sex students.  A study shows that students at the early years are more likely to model behavior from the same-sex teacher, including their anxiety about math.  This could come from the perception that women/girls are not good at math because it is socially acceptable (Beilock, et al., 2010).  

In the study, at the beginning of the school year, students who were taught by female teachers found no difference between the boys and girls when it came to math achievement.  However, at the end of the school year the boys continued to have no difference in achievement but the girls did.  It found that the higher the level of anxiety from the teacher, the more likely the girls would believe that their abilities should fall under the stereotypes of acceptable norms.  As a result, the more the teacher believed that they were bad at math, then this would be reflected in the girls math performance (Beilock, et al., 2010).    

Calling on my own experience this stereotype is indeed present.  Within my own school, there is a homework club and the children can do their homework and ask for assistant.  On several occasions the female teachers would redirect the math questions to me saying, “Mr. Paul is better at math than me.”  Even though I am good at math and science the teachers would already put down their own math ability.  Furthermore, many children would not even ask for help on a math or science question from a female teacher but would come straight to me with it.  Is the stereotype present that men are better than women in math and science in the mind of the child.  Unfortunately, yes it is.  

A further indication is within my classmates at the university.  We are currently starting a course on statistics, and a large portion of the course is math.  I, like many other in the class, got the textbook and looked through it before hand.  I found that many of the equations are similar to what I learnt in Physics and Calculus classes some years ago.  I have no reservations about it even though I know it will be a bit hard relearning the equations.  However, if you could see the rest of my class, their anxiety about this class is through the roof. 

Many are panicking about it and are already asking me things such as, “Paul you have to sit with me to help me.” Or “Paul can I call you to help me with the math.” I reassure them that this will all be alright and they can do the math just fine.  But you know what their response is?  “No Paul, you’re a guy.  You’re better at math than I am.”  Wow, there is some truth to that study after all.  Maybe their teachers had anxiety about math and it was passed on.  And now it might be passed on to the students they may teach.  Fascinating. 

In the end, it comes down to what you believe and how we present these beliefs to the children. Good and bad, both conscious and unconscious.   As teachers and professionals, we all must be aware of how we model behavior.  But all of you remember one thing.  We adults, whether teacher or parent, what we do or say nonchalantly, may have ramifications on the next generation.   

 

Reference

Beilock, S. L., Gunderson, E. A., Ramirez, G., & Levine, S. C. (2010). Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(5), 1860-1863. Retrieved from: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/5/1860.full#cited-by

 

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3 Responses to Friday Two Cents: Are Boys Better At Math And Science Than Girls?

  1. mamacormier says:

    It’s not just teachers that perpetuate the myth about girls and math. As a teacher I can’t tell you how many times I would hear from moms and dads that their child is just like them and they couldn’t do math or science either. When you hear that as a child you’ve given up before you even try. Fifty years ago educators started to realize that boys, who were always more aggressive in class, were asked to answer because their hands were up first or they were more attention seeking than the girls. Without thinking teachers always asked the boys first. When this action was corrected, girls quickly realized that they were just as smart in math and began to participate more. In science the shift has been amazing, In many sciences there are more women in the programs than men. When my oldest daughter graduated from her science program 10 years ago there were 200 women graduates and 50 men.
    P.S. Check your title.

    • Paul Gauchi says:

      The study was very intersting and I had to look into female ECE’s math and science issues for the discussion. But yes I agree with you. Many parents continue to propagate the stereotype.
      I already knew that children pick up a lot from the adults around them but, I found this very interesting on how much of what we believe and say in passing is picked up by the children. Even our cultural stereotypes. No matter how much we try not to propagate them, they still are apart of everyone.
      P.S. Thanks for the heads up.

      • mamacormier says:

        You’re welcome. It’s the teacher in me, I just can’t help it.

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