Why start single gender math clubs?
- to communicate high expectations for girls and boys in math class
- to get to better know female students as mathematical thinkers
- to explore equity issues safely in my classroom, school and community
- to collaborate with other teachers thinking about equity issues
- to support reflection on how to create a more equitable co-ed environment
Before starting math clubs we collect data about the number of famous men
and women students can identify, and about students' images of
mathematicians. Using our own classroom data as a base for discussing
gender expectations helps to keep the conversation safe for students. It also
provides a context for describing why we think it is important to create math
clubs. Math clubs are a place where we can explicitly communicate our high
expectations for both girls and boys in mathematics.
We ask students to:
1) draw a picture of a typical mathematician including their race, gender and
what they are doing. In some classrooms students need support in
understanding what race means.
2) take 3 minutes to write down all the famous men you can think of
excluding sports people and entertainers. After three minutes is up, ask
students to make another list of famous women.
Discussion questions (as applicable):
1) Why do you think most of you drew a man? Why are many of the women
that you drew teachers?
2) Why do you think most of you had an easy time coming up with famous
men, but a hard time coming up with famous women?
3) Do you think this is a problem?
4) What message is society giving you about what is appropriate for men and
women to be doing?
5) Why is it important for girls to think that mathematicians can be women?
6) What women do you know who are breaking traditional barriers in the jobs they are taking?
Discussing pictures of typical mathematicians:
Usually we learn that students have very little knowledge about what
mathematicians do. Many of their drawings show teachers or, as one student
put it, "crazy scientists with big hair." We introduce the idea that we will
partner with local businesses to learn about how people in the community
use mathematics in their jobs. Students are VERY interested in these
community partnerships and exult in learning about practical applications for
the mathematics they are doing in school. Often business partners can supply
strong female role models who shift both girls and boys perspectives about
what is possible.
Why is it difficult to identify famous women?
It has not been unusual for fifth graders to have a difficult time identifying
any famous women. Many students have been articulate about the history of
gender bias in our country and how things are changing for the better. Some
students will ask why they don't learn more about famous women in school.
Others will say there are no famous women.
In every classroom different issues come up. For example in one fifth grade
class the discussion revealed that every girl in the class had at least one
woman in her life breaking traditional barriers. Interestingly, the boys in the
class had less experience with non-traditional female role models. More than
half of the girls knew women who used power tools, but none of the boys did.
We asked why this might be true. As the discussion evolved it became clear
that girls' parents were making conscious efforts to expose them to the
advances women have made, however, this was not explicit in most boys'
homes. All students were surprised by this. In general third, fourth and fifth
grade boys and girls have been extremely open and interested in talking about
gender issues. We discuss both the economic and the social justice which
comes for girls when they pursue mathematics training. We also discuss the
advantages for boys when girls have the training to be equal partners.
Everyone has more choices/more flexibility to lead rich lives. Boys invariably
volunteer that they want to contribute to creating an equitable environment
in math class.
last modified July 1997
Copyright 1997 TERC, All Rights Reserved.