Expert: Change math classroom, not girls

April 9, 2012 at 12:09 AM
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STANFORD, Calif., April 9 (UPI) -- Girls shunning higher math has nothing to do with genes, but the way boys and girls are treated by peers, teachers and parents, U.S. researchers say.

Jo Boaler, a professor of math education in Stanford University's School of Education, said Americans tend to think gender differences in math achievement as unchangeable or girls aren't "hard wired" for math.

Researchers examined more than 250 separate studies of gender differences in math and found no appreciable differences in ability once the number of math courses boys and girls took was held constant.

The majority of U.S. math classrooms take a traditional approach to learning, where teachers introduce students to progressively more difficult mathematical procedures and students are expected to memorize these procedures and then execute them on homework and tests.

Math problems are usually the closed-ended type where a single answer can be circled at the end, and math procedures are usually taught by extracting them from real-world situations. In this classroom environment, boys did better than girls.

But in another math learning environment, where students learned math through collaboration, working together to solve complex, multi-dimensional, open-ended problems boys and girls performed equally well. Both boys and girls scored at higher levels than the students who had learned math traditionally, Boaler said.

Boaler found although the improvement was smaller in magnitude, boys in the non-traditional environment scored slightly better than boys in the traditional environment, yet there is a surprisingly high level of resistance among parents, teachers, and principals to this new way of teaching math.

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