Learning Math

Written by Tara Peris
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A number of reports have emerged recently suggesting that girls may have a more difficult time learning math compared to boys. These articles tend to focus on the lower levels of math achievement demonstrated by girls, and on studies of biological differences in math reasoning skills. What they fail to consider, however, is the important role of socialization in shaping both attitudes towards learning math and actual math performance. It may well be the case that exposure to different toys, learning opportunities, and expectations guides children toward different interests and skills.

A great deal of evidence suggests that girls do not do as well in math as boys. Further, research indicates that differences in math achievement persist across the lifespan, with men reaching higher levels of math achievement in college, and selecting careers in the math and science fields much more frequently than women. These clear and pervasive differences have fueled considerable research into factors related to math achievement.

Negative Attitudes Toward Learning Math

Studies of the biological underpinnings of math skills suggest that males may be predisposed toward easier comprehension of math material. At the same time, many of these studies rely on MRI or CT brain scans of children conducted once they are in grade school. It may well be possible that different paths of socialization in the preschool years shape neural circuitry before children have entered school.

In addition, studies also show that girls tend to have more negative views toward learning math, and that these attitudes are reinforced inadvertently by parents and teachers. Collectively, findings from these studies remind us that differences in math performance begin early in life, but that attitudes toward the subject may differentiate children who do well from those who do not. With this in mind, it is important that parents and educators work to establish positive attitudes toward learning math from an early age, and to place special emphasis on exposing girls to positive experiences with math.

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