Photo: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360
Girls get the message — from the toys they play with, the TV shows they watch and the attitudes of their parents, teachers and peers — that math is NOT for them! From an early age, girls are taught that math success is about an innate ability that they lack and that being feminine and being good at math are mutually exclusive.
As a result, girls do not develop a positive math identity — an identity that research tells us is key to their interest, participation and persistence in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers. Without a solid background in math, girls will not develop the critical STEM skills that will be required for 60 percent of the new jobs that will become available in the 21st century.
There are two pillars of a positive math identity: the belief that you can do math and the belief that you belong. Identity is fluid and dynamic. It is developed through social practice, and it is through social practice that learners develop a sense of who they are. There is no such thing as a “math gene” or a “math brain,” but the myth is perpetuated, and it is particularly harmful to girls and students of color. Teachers and parents often unconsciously convey stereotyped messages that girls do not need to be good in math.