Gender Equity Adds Up

by Michelle Gillett
Published by The Women's Times
Great Barrington, MA

Closing the Gap: Math Clubs for Girls provide challenging and non-routine mathematics experiences for six fifth-grade classes in "two very different settings, one urban, one rural." The Tobin School in Boston and the Stockbridge Plain School in Stockbridge, MA participated in the project, funded by the National Science Foundation and designed by TERC in Cambridge, MA, a not- for- profit research and development organization committed to improving mathematics and science learning and education. Co-directors Mary Berle-Carman and Lisa Yaffee and principal investigator Jan Mokros "wanted to establish a few flexible models for school-based math clubs run by classroom teachers for their female students." The goal was to prepare a wide range of girls in the public schools to participate fully in mixed-gender classrooms. Carman, Yaffee, and Mokros also wanted to get classroom teachers of co-ed groups to start thinking about gender issues and math reform.

Community connections are vital to the clubs' success. Community members visit the clubs and talk about their work, and students talk with people in their workplaces. Boys and girls work in "parallel" groups. Although they are separated by gender, they experience the same investigations and hear the same guest speakers. Teachers who led boys' and girls' groups said the experience gave them more insight into the extent and the way boys and girls participate in the co-ed classroom. As teachers worked with and observed students in the single-sex setting, they wondered if they expect girls to set the standard for appropriate behavior in the co-ed classroom. One question the project raised was "were girls acting appropriately at the expense of their own learning?"

Pat Archey, a teacher at the Plain School, did not "think there was a problem with the girls," but got involved with the project because she wanted to learn about math reform. She was amazed at the difference the project made for girls in her regular class. Roberta Shearn, a fifth-grade teacher at the Stockbridge Plain School, who is getting her master's degree in math and science education from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, enjoys the freedom from classroom constraint and the chance to "be a hands-on learner" with the students. Shearn is taking over the math club project "informally." "I'm committed to making this grow." There are now two fourth grade classes involved, and Shearn hopes that Searles Middle School in Great Barrington will start participating. Mary Berle-Carman, who grew up in Stockbridge and lives in Cambridge, MA with her family, plans to continue her involvement in the project locally.

last modified July 1997
© Copyright 1997 TERC, All Rights Reserved.