Parent to Parent: Combatting math and gender stereotypes

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on December 5, 2011 at 3:05 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 5 at 2:57 PM

Remember when girls thought math and science were really for boys – and that girls weren’t very good in these subjects? Aren’t those days pretty much over? Well, maybe not. Linda Morgan, editor of ParentMap and author of the book Beyond Smart, explains.


Are there still people who think boys are better at math and science than girls?
It seems to be ingrained in our culture that math and science are for boys. And this message filters down to the girls themselves. Math and science stereotyping starts early. According to recent study at the UW, elementary students already identify math as something boys do. Researchers showed that students as young as first graders connect “math” with “boys.”


Do girls tend to avoid math and science?
In elementary school, girls love science and charge ahead. But as they get older, teachers say that boys are the ones with their hands up and that the girls don’t want to take risks. When girls hit middle school, many lose confidence in their science and math abilities. That’s when boys sometimes move ahead.


Are girls going into math and science careers?
Not enough. They tend to move away from science and math. And they don’t end up in scientific fields. In certain science careers, such as computer engineering, women are very underrepresented. The number of women earning doctorates in mathematics is declining.
   
How can parents help combat gender stereotypes?

  • Encourage your daughter. Tell her she can be good in math and science. Students who are more confident about their abilities in those areas are more likely to choose math and science courses in the upper grades and more likely to select math and science-related college majors and careers.
  • Find role models. Find female role models -- through biographies, friends in the science fields, make a point of finding female dentists or doctors, for example, who your daughter can look up to and maybe emulate. Middle school girls in Seattle public schools can find role models in GEMS (girls in engineering, math and science), a program that gives girls the chance to meet monthly, do hands-on activities and talk with female mentors.
  • Be in the loop. Know what’s going on in your daughter’s class. Is she losing interest? Talk to the teacher and find out why – and discuss it with your daughter. Does the teacher respond more to the boys? 
  • Talk about stereotypes. Explain how attitudes and prejudices can affect the way your daughter sees others and see themselves. Find math and science camps and talk about the kinds of careers that are possible with math, science and technology backgrounds. And be good role models. Never, ever say in front of your child, “I can’t do math.”

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