Monday, March 5, 2012

Gender Wars, Math-Style

This isn't a war so much as an observation. Not even a highly scientific observation. It's not based on a fancy statistical study or anything, just my own observations in my classroom over the years. The conclusion isn't anything like 100%, but the vast majority in my small sample seems to follow the pattern.

Because I've taught in the same small school for several years, I've often followed the same group of students from Algebra 1 on up, some of them all the way to Calculus. I've kept an eye on what students liked and didn't like, what methods they chose when given a choice, and where their strengths and weaknesses were.

By and large (again, in my relatively small sample), girls prefer the analytical and algebraic. They'd rather have an equation to manipulate and solve, going step by step to isolate the variable. Boys prefer more visual approaches—geometry over algebra, analyzing a graph over an equation. There have been a couple of exceptions, but every year I've had more kids split down the expected line.

I've found this particularly interesting since these are all deaf and hard-of-hearing students, so you might expect they'd all lean toward the visual approach. Is it something in how males and females are respectively wired that makes us tend to lean toward one or the other? I remember reading things in school about how girls tend to be stronger in verbal-linguistic areas, while boys are stronger in logical-mathematical areas. (Again, these are just tendencies and obviously not true across the board.) Perhaps this is something similar.

Or maybe my students are just strange. :)

Do you fall into my expected categories or defy them? Have you noticed other unexpected (non-stereotypical) areas where divisions tend to fall along gender lines?


E.B. Black said...

I am female and (strangely) my highest point in math was doing proofs in geometry. It just felt like solving a crime scene to me. I was given a bunch of evidence and had to form an argument based on that evidence about what was true about that shape or not. I had a ton of fun.

R.C. Lewis said...

I don't know how strange it truly is, EB. Like I said, my observations are from a pretty narrow sample. And truly, I'm not sure which side of it *I* fall on. Maybe a 50/50 split, which is how I ended up a math teacher. :)