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Gender and Academic Achievement (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jan 26, 2011

Some researchers, on the one hand, argue that the gender gap in mathematics is biologically driven. Selected research shows that prenatal hormones circulating in the brain encourage differential development in the hemispheres of male and female fetuses (Berenbaum, Korman, & Leveroni, 1995). Others believe intelligence has its roots in genetics (Plomin, 2000). There is evidence, however, that sociocultural factors may influence girls’ attitudes toward math and science. For example, parents tend to view math as more important for sons and language arts and social studies as more important for daughters (Andre, Whigham, Hendrickson, & Chambers, 1999). Parents are more likely to encourage their sons to take advanced high school courses in chemistry, mathematics, and physics and have higher expectations for their success (Wigfield, Battle, Keller, & Eccles, 2002).

Teacher characteristics and the classroom environment also have been identified as contributors to this gender gap. Seventh and eighth graders attending math and science camps identified a math or science teacher as “a person who has made math, science, or engineering interesting” for them (Gilbert, 1996, p. 491). Unfortunately, many females report being passed over in classroom discussions, not encouraged by the teacher, and made to feel stupid (Sadker & Sadker, 1994). Classroom environments can be made to feel more “girl-friendly” by incorporating

  • Low levels of competition, public drill, and practice
  • High levels of teacher attention
  • Hands-on activities
  • Female role models
  • Same-sex cooperative learning communities
  • Nonsexist books and materials (Evans, Whigham, & Wang, 1995)

Fortunately, sex differences in mathematical reasoning have begun to decline, and females’ enrollments are up in math and science courses (Campbell, Hombo, & Mazzeo, 2000; Freeman, 2004). Programs designed to interest girls in math and science and that demonstrate how this knowledge will allow them to help others appear to be working.

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