Gender and Mathematics Learning (page 2)
Less women enroll in advanced courses in mathematics and pursue careers in mathematics and science than men (Leder, 1990). This situation is unfortunate because it is a loss to the nation and can create economic problems for women. Boys and girls in the elementary school achieve at the same level in mathematics, but by the age 17 boys outperform girls (Dossey et a1., 1988). Thus, it appears that events in elementary school mathematics classes could be related to the greater mathematical achievement of males in high school and in later life.
Many researchers have studied interaction patterns between teacher and students to find reasons for older boys' greater achievement in mathematics. Summaries of such research related to learning mathematics in the elementary school are found in Brophy (1985), Fennema and Peterson (1985), (1987), and Koehler (1990). Major findings are:
- Boys receive more mathematical instructional time than girls.
- Teachers ask boys more high-level (thought-provoking) questions in mathematics than they ask girls.
- Boys are praised more for intellectual abilities; girls for nonacademic qualities such as neatness.
- Boys respond more because they are asked more questions and volunteer more than girls.
Others claim there are genetic differences related to the difference in mathematics performance of males and females after elementary school. Difference in spatial skill has often been cited as a factor contributing to males' higher achievement. The research of Fennema and Tartre (1985) and Tartre (1990) examined two aspects of spatial skill: spatial visualization, the ability to mentally manipulate all or part of objects, and spatial orientation, the ability to recognize change in the orientation of an object or comprehend two different representations. They demonstrated that middle-grade and high school males with either high or low spatial skills (both spatial visualization and orientation) performed equally well on mathematics problems or low spatial males outperformed high spatial males. The pattern was different for females. Low spatial females had difficulty with the mathematics problems, whereas the high spatial females scored as high as or higher than the male subjects. Tartre concludes that females who lack spatial skills may have caused the mean of all females to be lower than that of males and confused the issue of gender differences in spatial skills and mathematics achievement.
The differences in mathematical performance of males and females has often been attributed to attitudinal factors. Women as a group have been shown to:
- Have less confidence in their ability to learn mathematics.
- Believe that mathematics is less useful to them than boys do.
- Stereotype mathematics as a male activity.
- Be less autonomous learners; they do not show independence in mathematical problem solving.
- Believe that their success is not due to their ability but to other factors such as luck. Males, on the other hand, generally attribute success to ability and thus would exhibit greater control over their lives (Fennema, 1982; Meyer and Fennema, 1992).
Meyer and Fennema hypothesize that such attitudes interfere with girls' interest in studying mathematics and persisting in that study. It is important to remember, however, that individual females may not exhibit these attitudes and that many women study advanced mathematics and are very successful.
Elementary school teachers can help girls develop attitudes that contribute to their confidence in studying mathematics, their belief in their own ability, and the knowledge that more careers are open to them if they pursue the study of advanced mathematics.
© ______ 1995, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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