One Positive Impact of COVID-19 Policy on Math Education and Gender Equity
Online learning helped us deal with girls' math phobias.
- By Karen Atkinson
can't read." Not many adults would be happy to admit this. but
somehow it is acceptable to say, "Me? I'm no good at numbers."
It isn't seen as a slur on someone's intelligence or a sign of a poor
education. It is as if being good at math is a gift like being a
brilliant musician or a talented artist. This is strange as there are
so many types of math. For example, there is numeracy that will
require calculation and estimation; algebra which involves problem
solving; geometry that entails spatial awareness, calculus that calls
for abstract thinking. That is a lot of different things to be "no
Dweck's work showed us that about 40% of students have a damaging
“fixed mindset” that makes them say I'm no good at this; another
40% believe that with the right conditions they can learn more and
get better at doing math. The remaining 20% waver between the two
are more hesitant about math, and their lack of confidence compounds
the problem. Whether taking a test or calculating a restaurant bill,
some expect to fail before they start. Research in 2010 showed that
the math-anxiety of female elementary school teachers could affecttheir female students: "There was no relation between a
teacher’s math anxiety and her students’ math achievement at the
beginning of the school year."
the school year’s end, however, the more anxious teachers were
about math, the more likely girls (but not boys) were to endorse the
commonly held stereotype that “boys are good at math, and girls are
good at reading.” Since some 90% of early elementary school
teachers in the United States are female, we as educators need to
make women strong and confident mathematicians.(Sian L. Beilock, Elizabeth A.
Gunderson, Gerardo Ramirez, Susan C. Levine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Feb 2010, 107 (5) 1860-1863; DOI:
has changed in many ways since that research. At Design Tech High
we have many female teachers who are confident in their subject
abilities and are strong role models for the next generation. All
students use a broad range of technologies in their learning. Whether
this is using 3D printers, laser cutters or design software as
potential tools to express and realize their ideas, we feel that it
is vital for them to learn to handle new technologies comfortably.
‘design’ part reflects our math program. Instead of the outdated
rote learning approach to reciting math facts, students learn to make
mathematical connections. This approach is about changing the mindset
and giving learners the tools and confidence to develop strategies,
encouraging them to have a go and try things for themselves.
in this way, we can offer the students more interesting learning
experiences where they can understand the application of mathematical
skills in their lives, whether that is understanding the interest on
store cards or the math needed for robotics.
COVID-19 disrupted our lives and as learning went online we wondered how
our students would cope, especially the girls who were anxious about
math. Not all children
thrived on remote learning, but it made a contribution, especially for
those girls who were motivated to improve their math.
many would sigh over a worksheet, they were more than happy to engage
with math problems that were delivered in a video game format. We
which proved to be the right digital program for our learners to
learn remotely. A resource such as this can help teachers to provide
a differentiated approach to learning that let girls work
autonomously at their own pace. Working at home, away from the
distractions of the classroom, we found that many of them thrived.
They enjoyed the challenges that Mangahigh provided and were looking
at a problem-solving approach, rather then the right answer.
are noticing that some are now asking for help when once they would
have avoided a math conversation at all costs. Now they are
developing a sense of optimism and self-efficacy and we expect to see
stronger more assured mathematicians going on to college.
is only when students gain a conceptual understanding of how various
mathematical notions can be linked and used to solve problems, that
math comes to life and becomes relevant. Once girls see realistic
opportunities they can apply for in science, technology, engineering
and math, they will start to take higher math in high school and take
a more serious look at STEM careers.
About the Author
Karen Atkinson is a teacher of geometry and pre-calculus at Design
Tech High School in Redwood Shores, CA.