Ask any teacher about the makeup and dynamic of their class, and one of the first observations will be the differences between their male students and their female students. Boys and girls vary greatly in their behavior patterns in the classroom, their study habits and their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to different academic areas, especially when it comes to math. Girls tend to have a negative attitude towards math and show a higher sense of anxiety when it comes to the logistics of solving math equations. This negative attitude plays a large part in why girls stray away from math related career paths and higher-level math courses. Research shows that these negative attitudes towards math start at home, and that parents and teachers play a critical role in the way female students approach math concepts. If parents and teachers can be aware of their influences and work together, both girls and boys can have a higher self-confidence when it comes to mathematics and both can strive for success.
A parent’s personal attitude towards math is a tremendous influence on a child’s perception and attitude towards the subject. If children hear their parents get excited about finding different ways to solve a problem, or see that their parents stick with a math problem without giving up, they too will adopt these behaviors. If parents get easily flustered, give up easily or invalidate the importance of a specific math concept, the children will also pick up on these negative behaviors. Parents should be very aware to instill a positive attitude towards math, and encourage their children to approach each problem with confidence and determination.
Sometimes, without even knowing it, parents can put a gender-based expectation on their children when it comes to math. Studies show that parents of high school and middle school boys assume their children will preform better in math than girls. Studies also show that by sixth grade, parents believe their boys are natural mathematicians and believe it is more important for them to be sufficient in math than their female classmates. Fathers tend to set higher expectations for their sons in math than they do for their daughters. All of these gender-based expectations can be detrimental to the success in girls, as lower expectations can foster the idea that it is not important for girls to succeed in math, and in turn negativity shift their attitudes towards the subject.
Parents can encourage their girls to peruse careers that require a higher knowledge of math, such as science and engineering based career paths. Parents who are aware of the unintentional gender stereotypes can be proactive by setting high expectations for their daughters when it comes to math and science, by seeking help for their daughters who struggle in math at an early age, and by emphasizing the importance of math in their lives and their future.
Parents and teachers can work together to foster positive educational attitudes towards math in both boys and girls. Children who are encouraged to excel in math will have a greater self-confidence in the classroom, which will also lead to higher self-confidence in other aspects of their lives.