What do you get when you have 16 middle grades girls in the same room? If you guessed gossip, meanness or superficial conversations you haven’t been in my classroom during the Girls Who Math after-school club! I established the club out of my concern regarding teenage girls’ attitudes towards math. Many girls in middle grades math classrooms start to be quiet during math, or say that they aren’t good at math. And when a student feels they are not “good at math” it can often result in their putting less effort towards their math studies and falling behind. Later in life, it may even prevent them from pursuing careers with an emphasis on mathematics.
Girls explore a variety of math-related activities at the club.
Teachers and families can take a variety of steps to encourage girls to stick with math. The goal is for girls to see that it’s “cool” to excel in math, that anyone can be good at math and that doing math can be fun. In our work together I constantly encourage them to replace “I can’t” with “I’ll try” and “I don’t know how” with “it will take time, but I can find out how.” I encourage them to be persistent, and to see making mistakes and trying different approaches to solving problems as the basis for learning math.
In the Girls Who Math club, Avenues middle grades girls explore a variety of math-related activities. This is the first year of the club at Avenues, and we started things off with pairs of girls each choosing a cause they cared about and learning more about their cause through online graphs. Interpreting graphs requires making inferences, developing visual skills and learning how to summarize data. A few of the topics chosen by the girls were endangered species, gender gap in salaries and racial inequalities. The information they discovered will be used as part of the club’s long-term project of putting together an electronic book on math and social justice, in which students will draw attention to the urgency of their causes by sharing their findings with the larger community.
Pairs of girls each choose a cause that interests them and learn more about it through online graphs.
The club’s long-term project is an electronic book on math and social justice that utilizes the information the girls uncover.
One of the girls’ favorite activities involves guessing the age of people on a website and then comparing their guess to the real age of the person (revealed after the students guess). They then use that information to create scatterplots, to calculate the mean average deviation and to discuss other statistical concepts.
Finally, the girls love playing quantitative games. So far they have played SET, Broken Calculator, Tenzi and some math games that I created.
Quantitative games are a big hit with the students.
It’s interesting to observe that some of the girls in the club who are also students in my math classes display completely different behavior in the club than they do in math class. I have found that in the club they are more likely to use their mathematical reasoning to argue with the others when they feel they have the right answer, and are also more likely to stick with a math problem even when they are struggling. I am hopeful that having this pressure-free time for girls to enjoy working with mathematical concepts will boost their confidence and slowly change their attitudes towards math. The benefits of this shift would not only carry over to their math classes, but to many other aspects of their lives as well.
In the low-pressure atmosphere of the club, the girls are encouraged to be persistent.