Saturday, September 19, 2009

Girls Do Math!

The Schrodinger Equation

I wasn't a fan of math through most of elementary and high school.  I had mediocre math teachers during my early years.  I'm sure it was a product of my female generation.  More attention was given to the boys rather than the girls by female math teachers.  What's up with that?  It's sounds counterintuitive.  I would have thought that a female teacher would spend more time helping girls do better in math.  However, teachers in the past reinforced gender stereotypes by expecting boys to excel.

I remember in seventh grade having the worst time with fractions and percentages.  My teacher, Miss S. (I'm protecting the guilty person) was not very helpful to me.  I kept praying our class would move on to an easier subject.  In hindsight, why didn't Ms. S. spend more time with me after school?  I think she expected me not to succeed.  Today I wouldn't think of using that approach with my daughter.

In high school, I enjoyed algebra but disliked geometry.  I think my geometry teacher was more worried about retirement than educating us.  Mr. G. would mumble a lot and keep his back to us while teaching.  Thankfully, Mr. P made trigonometry and analytical geometry more fun.   Mr. P. had a sense of humor and tried to keep us engaged during his instruction.

After spending nine years in parochial schools, I missed out on the advanced math track.  Catholic schools didn't start algebra until ninth grade.  That meant I missed taking calculus my senior year.   I tried to take it over the summer at the local community college before my senior year.  Unfortunately, I didn't score high enough in the college's math assessment test.

It was frustrating not being able to take calculus like my other senior classmates.  This was a portent to  my experience with math during college.  I believe, if I had taken calculus in high school, I would have had more confidence in learning it in college.

Well, the math department at my college was interesting!  Most professors were foreign and they had very thick accents.  I tested below algebra so I was required to take Math Concepts for two quarters.  Then I had to enroll in a trigonometry course before I could register for calculus.  I'll be honest, I felt like I was on another planet with these math instructors.  My grades were mostly Bs and Cs.

Why was it such a struggle for me?  I believe I lacked confidence in my mathematical abilities.  I also think most of my math professors were poor instructors.  I didn't feel self-assured in math until my last calculus class.  Do you want to know why?  I had an excellent math instructor and he was a  high school math teacher.  Talk about being paradoxical.  Why couldn't my math professors be as good as this man was?  He was passionate about his subject matter and treated his students as individuals.  I got an "A" in that course.  I knew I wasn't a failure anymore in math.

Do I have confidence today in my mathematical abilities?  Yes.  I know now that I can solve any equation with the right tools and patience.  I've come a long way with my abilities.

Currently, after a seventeen year hiatus, I am using calculus and linear algebra to solve quantum physics equations.  It took me a little while to regain my footing in mathematical language but I am doing it.  I am not a numerical ne-er-do-well.  Ha, ha.  Take that all you unhelpful math lecturers!

Fortunately, my situation is not the norm for present day female math students.  There no longer exists a gender gap in math thanks to the encouragement teachers give young women.  I am hopeful for my daughter.  I believe she won't have deal with the gender stereotypes in math.

The Myth of the Math Gender Gap

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