Gender Equity for Mathematics and Science
Notes on Invited Faculty Presentations
Journal groups provide an opportunity for participants to share and discuss
ideas with a small group of listeners. They represent a place to try out ideas, to pose questions, to poll perspectives, and to air viewpoints. At best, participants come to see the members of the journal group as a community that supports risk taking.
There is no one best way to run a journal group, but experience has shown that some ways work better than others. All journal experiences are negotiated, and your group will need to discuss and evolve the process that works best for you. Here are some suggestions:
- Group time is usually a combination of reading aloud and silently from journals.
- Members can share all or a portion of what has been written.
- Journals can be read aloud, paraphrased, or passed around.
- Comments can be verbal or written.
- Journal group time may be used to raise and discuss questions that arise from the reading and writing.
- "Quaker meeting." Members read and/or talk as the mood moves them. This creates a nice spontaneity, but those who are more verbal tend to dominate.
- Reflective circle. Each member of the group has a designated piece of time to read aloud and/or talk. All comments and discussion are held until every member speaks. This process insures that everyone is heard, but it cuts down on spontaneity.
- Post Office. Each member of the group makes copies of journal entries for all other group members. These are shared, read, and commented upon through written and/or verbal responses. This has the advantage of deeper comprehension but it slows down discussion.
- Potpourri. Some combination of the above.
Experiment and negotiate. In the end, you want to find a process that involves everyone in an ongoing conversation. The specific advice given below is based on "Suggestions for Journal Groups," Seminar in Teaching and Learning, School District of Philadelphia, 1989.
- Writing and thinking are intimately related
- One can make sense out of mathematics/science by writing about it
- If you write, you can become a writer (although many were at first skeptical about this assertion)
- Free-writing can be used in all classes
- In free-writing, forget about the "voice" that tells you to spell correctly, to check the grammar, to edit as you progress
- Help to combine the disciplines
- Write for five minutes
- Get the page "dirty" by writing about anything
- even write "I can't think of anything to write about"
- anything on your mind is OK
- For a first assignment have students write their own math autobiographies including positive and negative experiences
- Children come to your class with math histories that need to be tended to; they are not blank slates
- Each teacher also needs to be in touch with her/his own history
- Write and talk with colleagues
- Inclusive curriculum
Feelings in Math
It is perfectly okay to talk about feelings in math. We should acknowledge that the feelings are there. Our role as teachers is to help students start the process. Students need to step back and see what works for them. "What a powerful voice is heard when children figure out how they did it."
Joan Countryman shared with us a vignette from her book, Writing to Learn Mathematics, in which she describes a test she gave to a math class. She asked them to write about the composition of functions in place of solving the usual mathematical problems found on most tests. The next day, she asked the students about their feelings concerning that kind of math test. The students' responses were:
- reduced anxieties
- some concern about grades
- more confidence in abilities
- new insights into the material
- need a good sense of subject matter to write such a test
The above assignment could be included with an assessment portfolio for the student.
She finished with an account of an African American young woman, a freshman at a community college in Pennsylvania, who accepted her calculus professor's invitation to make a presentation at a regional professional meeting. With the help of her teacher, she prepared a brief talk on LaGrange methods. With only a touch of nervousness, she presented her paper at the student session and successfully fielded a few questions. Then a male professor at the back of the room raised his hand. "Put your transparency back on the overhead," he demanded. She complied. Then he said, "See that 6? It should be a 5."
The calculus professor, who told me the story, reported that her first reaction was not, "Why doesn't he shut up," but, "How could we have missed that error? We worked so hard."
The end of the story is that he was wrong about the 6.
How would school mathematics and science change if women were central to our teaching and our thought? How would the metaphors change? Would we still speak of "mastery"? Would we emphasize logic, abstraction, rationality, and right answers, or might we choose construction, intuition, collaboration, and exploration? Would our concerns shift from product to process? From secrets and mysteries to shared visions and stories? What happens when we move toward an inclusive curriculum?
In the year 2000, there will be about 15 million children in elementary school, about 10 million in secondary school, and about 3 million in tertiary programs. About one in three will be non-white, four in ten of those under 18 will be non-white, a figure that is 3 times what it was 50 years ago. What percentages at each of these levels will be female? Who will teach these students?
Questions on Gender and Mathematics and Science
- Do parents have lower educational expectations for daughters than sons?
- Are parents more willing to accept low levels of achievement in math and
science from girls?
- Does the selection of toys reinforce sex-role stereotypes?
- Are math, science, engineering, etc. seen as appropriate career options for
- Who helps with homework, mother or father?
- How significant is parental support for high achieving females?
- How significant is teacher support for high achieving females?
- Do teachers see math and science as masculine domains?
- How important are female role models?
- Do teachers pay more attention to boys than to girls? at all grade levels?
- Do students believe that boys are better than girls at math and science?
- Is peer group support more important for females?
- What are some of the barriers to entry into advanced courses?
- What is the significance of tracking?
- Is there a need for sex segregated grouping?
- How important is career counselling?
- Are there differences in performance on standardized tests?
- What are the characteristics of mathematically and scientifically successful
students? Are they more assertive? active? confident?
- Are girls more protected (and more obedient) than boys?
- What is the effect of the right answer and rule orientation of primary
mathematics? Do students perceive teachers as more authoritative in
math and science?
A framework for change requires:
- A commitment to inclusive education
- A program for hiring women in significant positions at all levels
- Public affirmation of the need for resources
- Training for all teachers and staff
- Expectation of success for all students
- A gender inclusive, multiracial, multicultural curriculum
- A climate that values diversity
- A plan for evaluation of progress towards these goals
Woodrow Wilson Leadership Program in Mathematics
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
CN 5281, Princeton NJ 08543-5281