Boys Favor, Show More Confidence in Math over Girls
- By Dian Schaffhauser
national survey of high schoolers showed that even among the top
students, boys both favored and had greater confidence in math
classes than girls.
national survey of 16- to 18-year-olds was undertaken by the Society
for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
(SIAM), among 1,253 students in grades 11 and 12. All were
participants in this year's MathWorks
Math Modeling (M3) Challenge,
a yearly online math modeling contest organized by SIAM that
demonstrates the importance of math in everyday life. The makeup of
survey respondents was about 60 percent male and 40 percent female,
similar to the gender breakdown of the M3 Challenge itself.
of male students (76 percent) described their participation in math
and science class as "frequent and confident." Fifty-eight
percent of female respondents said the same. Another 28 percent of
female students referred to their math and science class
participation as "frequent but questioning," compared to 12
percent of males who used that description.
difference in confidence showed up in leadership decisions too. When
it came to choosing a captain for their M3 Challenge team, seven in
10 mixed-gender teams (69 percent) chose a male leader.
shares of both genders (39 percent) reported being "naturally
good" at math and a third credited a teacher for inspiring their
of the survey participants (89 percent of males and 76 percent of
females) said STEM subjects were their academic favorite. However,
whereas 67 percent of females identified them as their strongest
subjects, 85 percent of males did.
83 percent of males reported that they planned to pursue STEM fields
in college, compared to 69 percent of females.
would these STEM virtuosos recommend getting more students interested
in math and science education and careers? "Good teachers"
were number one, chosen by 70 percent of respondents. Having a better
understanding of real-world applications and value of STEM (57
percent) was second. Gaining a better understanding of the diversity
of STEM-related career opportunities came in third (45 percent). And
being given more opportunities to personally experience STEM
applications in practice in the workplace was fourth (44 percent).
terms of math assessments, more male students than female students
preferred open-ended questions (63 percent versus 52 percent);
females showed a bigger preference for multiple-choice questions (48
percent versus 37 percent). According to the survey results, those
who favored multiple-choice questions said those seemed "less
daunting" because they could use the process of elimination, and
they preferred black-and-white answers with no gray areas. Those who
designated a partiality for open-ended math questions noted that they
liked having "no fixed answer" and tackling a problem that
could be solved in different ways; also, they said they found it
easier to use their math thinking skills with open-ended questions.
there are not huge differences in male and female views on math and
STEM, the survey shows there is still a marked gender difference when
it comes to subject preferences and how students view their own
strengths, as well as confidence levels in math class," said
Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge program director at SIAM, in a
M3 Challenge draws thousands of high school juniors and seniors who
commit 14 consecutive hours on a designated weekend in February/March
to devise a solution to a real-world problem using mathematical
modeling. This year's competition drew 760 submissions. The challenge
asked students to use math modeling to provide recommendations and
solutions for the trucking industry's turnover from diesel to
electric, with help from industry association North
American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).
teams' solutions were chosen as finalists; three other teams were
designated as technical computing finalists. Their papers were
evaluated by a national panel of PhD-level mathematicians.
Traditionally, the final judging takes place in New York City in
April. This year, that in-person event was canceled due to the
COVID-19 outbreak, so judging was handled virtually.
team of five high schoolers from Pine
in Osprey, FL took home the top prize of $20,000 in college
scholarships. A second team from Pine View took a $5,000 scholarship
prize. A total of $107,500 was up for grabs, divided among the
finalist teams and top performers nationally.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.