Due to the factors mentioned here, I considered the notion that girls have a confidence deficit when it comes to math to be something of a myth. I am less sure that’s the case. The more I work with boys and math and girls and math, there really does seem to be an issue of, if not confidence, something related to it. A lot of teachers, feeling generous to substitutes, will simply give their students review material for that day’s lesson. Or a short lesson. So I tend to spend as much time helping the kids as I do in front of class teaching them. The difference between boys and girls is notable. The girls really do seem to be running a deficit of confidence. Or otherwise, they are otherwise more willing to express their lack of confidence.

I probably spend about 2/3 of my “helping” time with female students. They ask for help more frequently and they request your help for longer. But what jumped out at me was that, in contrast to the boys asking for help, the girls know the material. I keep wanting to tell them you know this! Because they do. Once we get off cluster math and onto the algorithm, they need minimal help. But despite having done it using the same method on the preceding two problems, they demand help on the third. I refuse to lay it out for them, pointing instead to the steps of the previous problems, and step by step they get it. Then they get to the next one and “I don’t know what to do!”

With the boy students, it’s more cut-and-dried. They get it or they don’t. And as soon as they get it, they want you out of their face as quickly as possible. They’re more likely to assume they understand it when they don’t. So while I am having to avoid yelling at the girls “YES YOU DO KNOW WHAT TO DO BECAUSE YOU’VE DONE IT SIX TIMES ALREADY!” with the boys I have the unpleasant task of saying “Well no, that’s not how you/we did it up there.”

I don’t know what the origin of this is. It could be a lingering skepticism towards girls and math that they have absorbed. A part of me wonders if they simply enjoy doing it “together” than boys do. One sixth-grader, I swear, kept alternating between “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “I bet I can do this better than you!” It’s also possible that rather than it being a case of society being indifferent to girls and math, we are concerned about it to the extent that they know they can rely on the help more than boys. So they don’t gain the self-confidence of being able to do what they can clearly do.

I don’t know, but if I have a daughter, this is going to be something that I am going to keep an eye on.

And, of course, it all makes me feel all the more worse about accusing the second grader of faking it.


Category: School

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9 Responses to The Girl Math-Confidence Deficit

  1. Mike Hunt says:

    Did you stop to think that maybe the girls like you, and want to impress you?

  2. trumwill says:

    Well, it’s possible that they are doing a sort of thing where they present themselves as being dumb so that the adult figure can compliment them. Odd that the boys, who do not suffer from an inability to self-deprecate (though usually in a humorous way), don’t do that.

  3. stone says:

    The alleged girl-math deficit is the only thing that gives me any hope my boys may be good at math despite my history. My husband is very excited that two blocks from our home is being built a math-science-engineering magnet grade school. I am apprehensive, envisioning us unable to help with homework after third grade.

  4. stone says:

    Girls and women are much more comfortable admitting inability, and therefore more likely to feel inability even when it doesn’t exist.

    Did I ever tell the story about how I was the only woman in a scuba class, and we were led out to a beach dive with waves that were clearly too high for most of us beginners to get through, and once I protested and chickened out all the guys followed me back? Otherwise I suspect they might have drowned out of pride.

  5. Kirk says:

    Did I ever tell the story about how I was the only woman in a scuba class, and we were led out to a beach dive with waves that were clearly too high for most of us beginners to get through, and once I protested and chickened out all the guys followed me back? Otherwise I suspect they might have drowned out of pride.

    I get a chuckle out of that. I wanted to add though that a beach-entry dive for a basic scuba class does seem to be a bit much.

    The only challenge in my qualifying dive is that it was in Wisconsin, in late fall. Brrr…

  6. trumwill says:

    Sheila, if it makes you feel any better, Mom hated math and was never good at it. I excelled at it until about the 11th grade and my brother is an engineer.

    There are a lot of times when guys sit around looking at one another, waiting for the first person to say “This could lead to bodily injury…”

    Mountain Dew had a couple of really good commercials about this. Everyone is hyped up about some adventure until they see the impossibility/danger of it, then wait in silence for a few seconds before someone comes up with an alternate adventure. It takes a few seconds because they can’t really show how long it actually takes.

  7. Brandon Berg says:

    Otherwise I suspect they might have drowned out of pride.

    I don’t really know anything about scuba. What exactly were you expecting to go wrong? How does one drown in scuba gear?

  8. Kirk says:

    “I don’t really know anything about scuba. What exactly were you expecting to go wrong? How does one drown in scuba gear?”

    Not that your comment was aimed towards me, but a woman near here did drown when coming off a beach dive. I’m sure whatever happened to her an experienced diver could have dealt with, but not all divers are experienced. (If I remember correctly, they had trouble finding her body as she hadn’t ditched her weight belt: a sure sign of panic and/or inexperience.)

  9. trumwill says:

    Not knowing anything about scuba diving, I’d be worried about something in the tank getting knocked out of place and not being able to do a good job of getting up in the rough water.

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