Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune says the gender gap in math starts early:
(A) recent study from the University of Washington found that as early as second grade, American children associate math as an endeavor for boys. The study assessed how children link math with gender by examining “math-gender stereotype,” the association of math with male or female, and “math self-concept,” the association of “me” with math.
“Not only do girls identify the stereotype that math is for boys,” says lead author Dario Cvencek, “but they apply that to themselves. That’s the concerning part. Girls are translating that to mean, ‘Math is not for me.'”
A couple of nights ago, my wife Julia and I were reading books with Anna. One was about how Belle (of Beauty and the Beast fame) found a stray pony in the woods. The pony was nervous, so she gained his trust by offering him sugar cubes. After we finished the story we went back and counted the sugar cubes.
“How many sugar cubes did Belle take?” Julia asked.
“Eight.” Anna replied.
“And how many did she give the pony?”
She counted: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Belle must have put one of the sugar cubes in her lemonade because she had eight and the pony ate seven.”
“Anna,” I said. “You just subtracted.”
We then took turns holding up our fingers and asking Anna how many were left when we took some away.
“I’m holding up eight fingers,” Julia said. “Take away four. What’s left?”
“One, two, three, four. Four!”
“That’s right, Anna.”
Now Anna’s only five. She’s in preschool one day a week—we home-school her the rest of the week—and no one’s told that girls aren’t supposed to be good at math. It’s our goal that by the time someone does tell her that, she’ll have the self-confidence to laugh it off.
Knowing Anna, she’ll call herself “math princess.”
Followed by a big smile and a “Ta da!”