The goal of the NSF-funded Closing the Gap: Math Clubs for Girls Project (HRD 95-53337
11/95-5/97) run by Jan Mokros (PI), Mary Berle-Carman and Lisa Yaffee (Co-Directors) was to
develop, in collaboration with teachers, several models of school-based math clubs for girls
which can be replicated in elementary schools across the country. The clubs have increased
girls' interest and enthusiasm for math, helped teachers improve the climate of their co-ed
mathematics classrooms, and increased community involvement in mathematics education.
Working with the Berkshire Hills Regional School District (BHRSD), Boston Public Schools,
and Lexington Public Schools, we developed and piloted several highly successful school-based
- weekly math clubs for girls held during lunch or before or after school. Boys who wish to
attend are included.
- parallel single-gender girls and boys math clubs. Teachers pair up and trade students to form
two single gender groups. After completing a six-week unit of work teachers trade groups so that
each teacher experiences both all girls and all boys groups. These groups meet once a week for
an hour each, or in one case one week each month for five straight days.
In each school, math clubs served as a framework for teachers to learn about the gender
dynamics in their math classrooms. Additionally, they used clubs as a place to experiment
with reform mathematics activities. Once teachers recognized and reflected on the gender
issues in their classrooms, the club framework became a way to think about how to improve the
co-ed classroom environment. At each site teachers also made changes in their regular
classroom math instruction after experiencing their students' responses to reform math
Impact on Teachers and Districts
As the grant period is coming to a close all participating teachers (14) report they will continue
the work within their communities. The administration of one district has committed funding
for participating teachers to serve as leaders within the district to promote both reform
mathematics and equity (Berkshire Hills Regional). At the second site (Boston) teachers are
negotiating leadership roles to support their schools in addressing math reform and gender
equity. An active gender equity/mathematics parent group is committed to supporting the
infusion of the model across elementary schools at the third site (Lexington).
In their exit interviews teachers reported that leading single gender math clubs has:
- raised issues they didn't acknowledge earlier with regard to gender -- specifically their
biases in regular classroom teaching toward boys. For example:
- Are girls expected to set appropriate standards of behavior in the regular math
classroom at the expense of their own learning?
- Do boys absorb most of the teacher's attention in the co-ed classroom for either discipline
issues or because they are more assertive in class?
- Do we as teachers communicate unknowingly different expectations for girls and boys
- What are the ways we ask students to participate in class? How can we ensure
participation and establish a rapport with those students least likely to raise their
hands and speak to the whole class?
- How can we support all students in developing good listening and group discussion
- How can we address the (sometimes quiet) culture of put-downs and harassment that
exists in many co-ed classrooms?
- helped improve the climate of the co-ed classrooms. Following the implementation of math
clubs, teachers reported that girls participate more in co-ed classrooms and are more proactive
generally, while boys attend to including girls in class discussion and group work.
- provided a manageable structure for encouraging parent and community involvement in
mathematics classes. (At each site parents and/or business partners regularly visited math
clubs to discuss the math they do in their work.) The involvement of parents and business
leaders has increased students' understanding of the math required for different careers and has
introduced boys and girls to successful women using mathematics in many different fields of
- increased collaboration/discussion about pedagogical issues in those schools where the
parallel girls and boys club structure has been used (BHRSD, Lexington) because teachers trade
students, facilitate the same mathematics activities each day of the club, and meet at common
prep times to discuss club work/results.
Example of Change: Berkshire Hills Regional School District
The implementation and expansion of math clubs at the Stockbridge Plain School in
Stockbridge, MA led the Berkshire Hills School District to examine broadly both gender bias
in classrooms and reformed mathematics.
Specific actions or changes:
- The PALMS regional provider organized and hosted two gender/mathematics workshops plus
follow-ups for teachers county-wide, (Summer 1997.)
- The district has hired math club teacher leaders to provide ongoing in-service training
promoting the single gender math club model and reform mathematics district-wide, (Spring
- The district sponsored a one day gender/math workshop for teachers county-wide, (Spring
- The Math Task Force for the district adopted reform math curriculum for fourth and fifth
grades and committed money to in-service (January 1997.)
- The school district purchased reform curriculum for all interested teachers, (September 1996.)
- Thirteen teachers chose to experiment with a new reform-based curriculum in the first year after
hearing about the experiences of their colleagues teaching math clubs, (Spring 1996.)
- The school district sponsored one in-service day, and a two-day summer workshop attended
by elementary teachers in the district to explore gender issues in mathematics education and
reform mathematics. (Led by TERC staff in collaboration with teacher leaders, March 1996.)
Impact on Students
Girls and boys participating in single gender math clubs for sixteen weeks scored significantly
higher on attitude surveys measuring confidence in mathematics than students at the same
grade level in the same schools not participating in math clubs. Out of a possible score of 22,
students participating in math clubs scored 19.1 on average, while students not in math clubs
scored 16.0 (t = 3.19, p = .0023). Testing club participants pre and post (before and after 16 weeks
of one hour club meetings per week), we discovered boys' scores moved in a positive direction
overall after sixteen weeks, while the mean difference between girls' pre and post test scores
was significant (t=2.47, p=.0069.)
Participating students at the three sites communicated similar messages about math clubs. Girls
wrote in evaluations that clubs afforded them freedom from the put-downs they had come to
expect from boys if they participated in discussion in the co-ed classroom; more and better
opportunities to participate in class; a safe place to test untried ideas; and a fun social
environment. Over 97% of participating girls recommended math club to girls from other
schools. Ninety-five percent of boys recommended math club to boys from other schools; their
reasons were the opportunity to be with friends, and the freedom to ask questions they wouldn't
feel free to ask in the co-ed environment such as "Are girls more mature than boys?" and "Is it
true that boys are better at math than girls?"
Typical written comments from girls were:
- "I like being with all girls because boys can be loud when I am concentrating." (fifth grade girl)
- "You are always with a girl. You can concentrate." (fourth grade girl)
- "I like being with all girls because the boys are much more wanting to move and when you say
an answer the boy would laugh even if it was right." (fifth grade girl)
- "I would recommend math club because it was sort of fun but challenging." (fifth grade girl)
- "I like being with all girls because it is calmer. You don't get made fun of if you answer a
question wrong. All the girls are very mature and it is nice..." (fifth grade girl)
- "I like being with all girls because sometimes the boys tease you." (third grade girl)
- "I like Girls Math Club because it makes it easier. I don't feel rushed." (third grade girl)
The Closing the Gap Project math club models have generated a great deal of interest in a short
time at both local and national levels. Audiences are intrigued with using single-gender
experiences in the service of improving co-ed classrooms. They want to know how students and
community members have responded and how we've addressed Title IX issues. The fact that we
work with boys, parents, and community members in addition to girls in order to address gender
bias in classrooms is especially salient.
PBS will air a seven part series called "Life by the Numbers" that is devoted to
mathematics. The seventh show in the series, "Making a Difference" will highlight several
mathematics reform projects K-12 and will include an 8-10 minute segment on the Closing the
Gap project. In addition, Closing the Gap information and materials will be included in an
outreach resource packet provided by PBS to interested schools. To be aired starting April, 1998.
- School Based Single-Gender Math Clubs: Empowering Students and Teachers. NCTM
National Convention-Minneapolis-Saint Paul, April 1997. Presented by Mary Berle-Carman and Roberta Shearn.
- Reform Mathematics and Educational Equity: Single Gender Math Clubs Help Close the Gap.
Quality Education for Minorities (QEM Network) -- A conference on Mathematics, Science, and
Engineering, Boston 1997. Presented by Mary Berle-Carman.
- Math Counts: Does Your Daughter? An evening school program attended by 150 parents and
sponsored by the Lexington League of Women Voters and the Lexington School Department. Presented by Mary Berle-Carman.
- Articles have appeared in The Boston Sunday Globe (Northwest Section),
Minuteman Press (Lexington, MA), Women's Times (serving Berkshire County, MA and the
tri-state area), and the Southern Berkshire Record (Southern Berkshire County, MA.)
Radio. Radio station WSBS in Great Barrington, MA devoted their weekly education show to
the girls and boys math club program at the Stockbridge Plain School. The show included
interviews with students, teachers, and TERC staff, as well as the producer of the PBS show
"Making a Difference." TERC staff received numerous calls with regard to the program.
- Berle-Carman, M., Yaffee, L., and Mokros, J. (1996, Fall). Math Clubs: Closing the Gap. Hands On!
17(2), 8-10. TERC, Cambridge, MA, 1996.
The Regional Alliance for Equity in Education (TERC) will include a case study of the Closing
the Gap project in its Strategic Reform Handbook, forthcoming in spring 1998.
Barb Spencer (Michigan), is a teacher leader who learned about the Closing the Gap
project. With minimal e-mail support from Closing the Gap staff, she has successfully
started her own award winning math club program for girls funded by grants from her local
Chamber of Commerce, the AAUW, and AT & T.
last modified July 1997
Copyright 1997 TERC, All Rights Reserved.