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Help Girls Excel in Math and Science

by Jamie Littlefield
The Challenge

Although the achievement gap is beginning to close, girls across the nation are still falling behind in math and science. Boys and girls tend to share the same level of interest and proficiency in science and math until they hit middle school. Around age 13, girls start losing interest and are outperformed by their male peers. Across the board, females score lower than males on SAT math and science tests and AP exams. Once they get to college, females are far less likely to major in subjects such as engineering and computer science.

These girls lose interest in math and science because they are not given the same opportunities as the boys in their classes. Young men are presented with science kits, building blocks, and other experimental toys at a young age. Young women are given dolls, craft sets, and less-experimental toys. There are many images of male mathematicians and scientists in the media and in movies. However, few females are shown excelling in math and science.

Unfortunately, girls often face overt discrimination in the classroom. Many teachers and counselors set lower expectations for females in math and science classes. Math and science courses are often geared toward boys and teachers may ignore the needs of their female learners.

When girls fall behind in math and science, everyone suffers. Without these bright female minds working to cure diseases, create products, and explore the scientific world, we miss out on potential discoveries and inventions. It is essential that community members encourage girls to excel in math and science from a young age. With just a few minutes of your time, you can help.

How to Make a Difference I Did This!
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Whether you're a parent, a teacher, or a concerned citizen, you can make a difference. Try one of these ideas:

    • Email a math and science activity booklet to a parent. The Girl Scouts of America offers a downloadable activity guide for middle school girls called Mix it Up. Send the link to parents, mentors, or anyone you know that works with girls. The book provides down-to-earth tips for encouraging girls to excel in math and science as well as exciting experiments for girls to conduct. Young women will have a blast as they fold paper airplanes, make solar ovens, and go on scavenger hunts.
    • Encourage teachers to be sensitive to the needs of female learners. Boys and girls learn differently. Research has shown that girls need more time to discuss issues and communicate during class time. The Federal Registry for Educational Excellence offers a wealth of free material teachers can use to help reach girls in math and science classes. Take a few minutes and send your local elementary, middle, or high school teacher a link to one of these resources. Some of them are a bit dated, but the tips and information are timeless:
  • Encourage girls to get involved in math and science at school. If you have a daughter, team-up with the parents of your daughter's girlfriends. Monitor their science and math classes to make sure they are all doing well. Assign a few of the parents (moms if possible) to be "on call" to help with science and math homework. Ensure that the girls enroll in Algebra during eighth grade and make sure that they continue to take math and science courses after the tenth grade. Taking these classes will help keep their options open if they go to college. You may also want to encourage these girls to join a math or science club. Read the Science and Math are for Girls tip sheet for more ideas.
  • Be a role model. If you are a woman with a math or science-related job, you can become a much-needed example to young girls. Consider volunteering to speak to a local math or science class about your profession.
  • E-mentor a young woman interested in math or science. Young women entering community colleges, universities, or graduate schools are in desperate need of strong, female mentors with experience in technical professions. If this sounds like you, MentorNet will pair you with a student interested in receiving your guidance and insight. Develop a one-on-one relationship with a young woman struggling to overcome gender barriers in school. With just a few minutes of time answering emails each week, you can help her set goals and be successful in her field.

Remember to always keep a positive attitude when talking to girls about math and science. With the support and encouragement of people like you, a whole new generation of female scientists and mathematicians will be empowered to help make the world a better place.

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