Ars Technica – Jan. 25, 2010:

Girls often believe themselves to be bad at math, in accordance with gender stereotyping, and often experience high levels of anxiety about the subject. That anxiety appears to be driven by social influences, and may be vanishing in early education. Still, identifying its causes could help eliminate it at later stages of education, and prevent it from making a reappearance in young girls.

A new study suggests that elementary school may be a breeding ground for this anxiety. The study found that when elementary school teachers, who are primarily female, displayed a high level of anxiety about math, that skittishness was transmitted to their female students. Those students who spent a year with a math-phobic teacher displayed lower math achievement and an increased belief in stereotypes about female mathematical ability.

Elementary education majors have been found to be particularly afraid of math—more so than any other college major—but often have little chance to overcome this fear because the math requirements of their programs are usually minimal.

  1. brm says:

    As an undergraduate studying math at a major university, I assure you, girls are catching up and taking over.

    When I went to school for engineering ten years ago, it was odd to even see a girl. Now my classes are generally over 50% female, and they do very well.

  2. WmDE says:

    “teachers, who are primarily female, displayed a high level of anxiety about math, that skittishness was transmitted to their female students”

    Where were the boys when the “skittishness” was being transmitted?

  3. SN says:

    2. “Where were the boys when the “skittishness” was being transmitted?


  4. MikeN says:

    Girls aren’t as good at higher level math, but this shouldn’t be a problem in elementary school.

  5. bill says:

    Their study is flawed.

    The girls are way smarter at higher math than the boys.

  6. dusanmal says:

    This is local society issue. Where I came from it is traditionally assumed that girls do BETTER in math than boys, on any level. There is no special program to teach either gender “in a better way” or any rationalization of this skew in opinion. It is just a prejudice, same as the opposite one in USA.

  7. deowll says:

    The old studies and my own experience is that girls are great at math: adding, subtraction, multiplication, and division. None of the old literature ever suggested anything else. Most girls seemed to beat most boys at least in my experience.

    On average the scores of girls in geometry and algebra in previous generations was slightly less than that of boys along with map reading and some other activities involving visualization while on average scoring slightly better in language skills but a lot of studies seem to come up with the observation that girls often prefer working with people rather than numbers.

    None of this tells anyone anything about the abilities or interests of any given individual. You can also automate some of this by using high end calculators and software.

  8. brm says:


    “Where I came from it is traditionally assumed that girls do BETTER in math than boys, on any level.”

    Really? Where is this?

  9. WmDE says:

    Okay SN I RTFA. My opinion of it fell by 37%.

    Who gets anxious over first and second grade math?

    The FA never states that the girls taught by the confident female teacher did as well or better than the boys. That would seem to be worth mentioning, unless it is not so.

    As for your headline, “Why can’t girls learn math? Because our teachers don’t know math!” leaves one wondering how the boys managed to pick up a skill from someone who doesn’t have it.

    From the FA your headline should have been “Why can’t girls learn math? Because 90% of our teachers are women!”

  10. Greg Allen says:

    Here in Oregon, all teachers need to pass either the Praxis or the CBEST, which seemed like about 9th or 10th grade to me.

    This would be more than enough to teach grade school math with confidence.

    It makes me doubt this story a little bit.

  11. Greg Allen says:

    >> MikeN said, on January 25th, 2010 at 5:38 pm
    >> Girls aren’t as good at higher level math, but this shouldn’t be a problem in elementary school.

    Or, maybe people like MikeN don’t encourage their daughters to even try higher level math classes.

    [I]Math Scores Show No Gap for Girls, Study Finds

    Although boys in high school performed better than girls in math 20 years ago, the researchers found, that is no longer the case. The reason, they said, is simple: Girls used to take fewer advanced math courses than boys, but now they are taking just as many. [/I]

  12. MikeN says:

    Yes, if you expand access enough, you will get equal levels, and eventually girls will have the higher amount. This is because boys are more likely to appear in the extreme ends of the bell curve, while girls are more in the middle. So at higher and higher ability levels, you will see fewer and fewer girls. If you lower the bar enough, to 50% of the population, you should see equal numbers. Below that, you will see more girls, as the really poor performers are likely to be boys.

  13. Kurd says:

    #8 BRM:

    The answer to your question is only one click away. Clearly, he is talking about Serbia and judging by the abilities of some of my Serbian friends I have no reason to doubt him.

  14. animaybe blind says:

    The girl in the illustration won’t learn much. She can’t see very well. Her eyeballs are to big to be encased in her skull without being severely distorted from the normal spherical shape. And she seems to have blood leaking into her corneas.

  15. moss says:

    If you feel up to wandering through the original press release, it starts here:

    Who knows? Some commenter might accidentally read the study.

  16. RTaylor says:

    It’s not like an elementary teacher is solving quadratic equations on the board. If she could I doubt she would be an elementary teacher.

  17. Mr. Fusion says:

    From Moss’s link

    These findings are the product of a yearlong study of 17 first- and second-grade teachers and 52 male and 65 female students, which found that a teacher’s math anxiety affected the math achievement of girls but not boys.

    So, a total of 117 children spread out among 17 classes. That suggests to me a very high level of error.

    To assess stereotypes, the students were told gender-neutral stories about students who were good at mathematics and reading, and then were asked to draw each type of student. Researchers were interested in examining the genders of the drawings that children produced for each story.

    At the beginning of the school year, student math achievement was unrelated to teacher math anxiety in both boys and girls. By the end of the school year, however, the more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely girls, but not boys, were to endorse the view that “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading.” Girls who accepted this stereotype did significantly worse on math achievement measures at the end of the school year than girls who did not accept the stereotype, and than boys overall.

    Highly subjective and open to interpretation and test influence. This also overlooks other life influences.

    While I don’t know enough about the study to pass judgment, on the face there are problems with the conclusion.

  18. The0ne says:

    Personally from what I’ve seen around here girls are smarter but are not “into” math due to whatever the hell teenager crap they are going through. They just pay too damn much about their surroundings and themselves whereas boys are still pretty much clueless and think keeping insects and what not are cool.

    Sad to say, this carry’s on even when the girls mature to a woman while most boys actually do grow up. Maybe not most, but half of them 😀

  19. MikeN says:

    From John Derbyshire

    This is a spin-off from the “stereotype threat” theory popular with education theorists a year or two ago, since shown to be the result of publication bias (e.g. studies that confirmed the theory were sent for publication; those that didn’t were deep-sixed — also known as the “file-drawer effect”). Stereotype threat is a very clear example of what Steve Sailer calls “Occam’s Butterknife” — i.e. when the simplest, most straightforward explanation of some phenomenon is emotionally disturbing to you, try for something more complicated.

  20. Glenn E. says:

    I can sympathize with this report. I was held back from learning anything more than the most watered down math, by both grade school, and later high schools. I did very well at more advanced math, in summer school (only one year). That’s because I had a fantastic male instructor, WHO CARED! The rest were more like babysitters, posing as teachers. And maybe (as I suspect) there was more of an emphasis on getting kids thru, so they could serve in Vietnam. Yeah, that long ago. Math education sucked even back in the 1960s and 70s. I might have gotten Calculus under my belt by 12th grade. But their lame system of prerequisites prevented me from getting beyond Algebra. It didn’t matter to them, if I could handle it. And then the Chem teacher, who was in charge of our High School’s Math dept. (huh?), came up with a way to dumb down the Algebra course. Ever hear of Self-Paced Algebra. It sucked big time. But it lessened the work load the math “instructors” had to do. Whoopee! The German and Japanese education system, put the American system to shame. But then, all Americans have to do is die in foreign wars, right? So why worry about teaching them math?

  21. Kintaar says:

    This is a joke I heard. It was written about a girl, but it could just as easily be about a guy.

    Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters, but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried. Why do I tell you this?

    Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1960s:

    1. Teaching Math In 1960s

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

    2. Teaching Math In 1970s

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100 His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

    3. Teaching Math In 1980s

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

    4. Teaching Math In 1990s

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

    5. Teaching Math In 2000s

    A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it’s ok. )

    6. Teaching Math In 2010

    Un hachero vende una carretada de madera para $100. El costo de la producciones es $80. ¿Cuanto dinero ha hecho?

    • rose says:

      Yes, they have not effectively made math into Spanish by expecting kids to know what no one taught them in the past.

  22. buy r4 dsi says:

    Oh its so funny!Just passing by here and came across your post.Its interesting.I will keep visiting this site often.


Bad Behavior has blocked 3881 access attempts in the last 7 days.