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Topic: girls and math

How to raise a math-confident daughter (or son) (1)

Friday, January 15th, 2016

smaller high five

That’s me speaking at AAUW’s Tech Savvy event for 6th-9th grade girls and their parents!

Is your child plagued by math anxiety, even though they’re already busting their butt?

Or do you really want to support your child to be truly math-confident, but don’t know how to connect with them about math?

I recently got to speak to parents about “How to Raise a Math-Confident Daughter (or Son)”, and the response was so phenomenal that I wanted to share the highlights with you!

This approach totally works whether you’re coming at it from a parenting perspective or applying it in your own classroom or community.

I’ve come to understand that being math-confident all comes down to developing and nurturing a Mastery Mindset.

1. The first piece of a mastery mindset is to have a Growth Mindset – knowing that math is a skill that everyone can nurture and develop with effort. (Carol Dweck has an awesome body of research about this.)

One of the ways I help my students develop a growth mindset is through using empathy to create an atmosphere of camaraderie and trust, so students feel really safe to talk about what they don’t understand.

I’ve come to understand that what keeps us from understanding math isn’t our intellect, but our emotions. And instead of ignoring our emotions, we can respect them and work with them as a tool to create mastery.

For example, there’s a student who came to me at the end of her Algebra 2 year. Math felt like a foreign language to her. By working with her emotions explicitly as part of our work, she ended up becoming the star of her pre-calculus class, nailing her oral final in front of her entire class, and enrolling in Calculus because math became something she loved.

An easy way that you can start to use empathy to develop a growth mindset is just to ask your child the very simple question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how does this feel?” This also helps students develop the super powerful meta-skill of self-assessing their own mastery.

Would you like your child to receive super-customized, one-on-one support in developing their own math mastery mindset – so math becomes something totally doable and enjoyable?

Just click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child. I’m excited to connect!

Related posts:
The secret to getting straight As in math (it’s not what you think)
“Now I feel connected to math”
The Secret Ingredients of True Math Mastery
Do you wish your kid could feel like Albert Einstein?
Does having a math tutor make you a “loser”?

Topic: girls and math

Yay, it’s a new math book from Danica McKellar!

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Celebration! Danica McKellar has released her latest math book for girls, Girls Get Curves!

McKellar recently did a really thoughtful interview with NPR about her latest book, which focuses on geometry. One of my favorite parts is this bit, when she talks about taking her first college math class at UCLA:

I was actually worried about taking a math class. I didn’t know that I’d be able to handle it. And here I scored a five on an AP Calculus BC exam. Talk about perceptions. I didn’t see myself as being good at math even though I was. And that’s one of the things I’m tackling in the books. But when I did jump into that math class, despite my concerns and my fears, I did really well and I was hooked.

I was like, wow, I suddenly felt valued and important for something that had nothing to do with Hollywood. It had everything to do with something that I was building from the inside out, and you don’t have to have been on television to struggle as a teenage girl with your self-image. And that’s why I know that math is an amazing tool for all girls to find themselves, to find something that they value themselves for.

Because I admire Danica and share with her a mission of helping girls (and guys too) really GET math in a way that is fun and meaningful, I’ve read a lot of her interviews very closely (and I even got the chance to interview her myself about her third math book for Wired’s GeekMom blog — check it out here). I’ve heard her talk about how doing a difficult math problem during college would make her euphoric, and her journey of becoming a math major.

But this is the first time I’ve heard her talk about experiencing math as a refuge – a place where you can incubate and develop your own abilities and intellectual strength and work “from the inside out” in a way that has nothing to do with appearances.

This vision really resonates with me — and I hope that all girls (and guys) can experience math this way.

Would you love to experience math as a refuge – even if right now, you might not be sure that it’s possible to ever regain your confidence?

Then I invite you to apply for my very special one-on-one math tutoring programs!

Just click here to get started with your special application. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I’m here for you, and I’m so glad we’re connected!

Sending you love,

Related posts:
Guest Post Alert: Q&A with Danica McKellar About Hot X: Algebra Exposed!
No More Girls Versus Boys
My Favorite Math Teacher Is a Woman
How to help your kids with their math homework

Topic: girls and math

Awesome Canadian teenager makes graduation dress out of her math homework

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

OMG! This is so cool! Kara Koskowich, a Canadian teenager, made her own graduation dress out her math homework! Check out CBC news for the full story here. Designed to look like “an explosion”! You know I love stories about girls and math, and this is one of my recent favorites!

When I was growing up, I loved making my own clothes and digging for amazing thrift store finds, but it never would have crossed my mind to create a graduation dress out of my actual homework. (Even though I went on to do things like go out dancing in college in a skirt made out of a reflective metallic poster.)

I thought it was interesting that Kara’s best friend, who made her dress out of reused plastic bags, didn’t get the same level of press as the math homework dress, even though her dress is clearly also awesome. I think it’s because of that extra layer of poetic resonance of making a graduation dress literally out of the work you did in order to graduate.

In conclusion: way to go, Kara and best friend! I look forward to seeing what you create next!

Do you want to learn math in a way that’s creative, fun, and intuitive–like making your own original dress (or tuxedo, for that matter)?

Then I invite you to apply for my super special one-on-one math tutoring programs!

Just click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I’m excited to hear from you!

Sending you love,

Related posts:
Be Yourself, Do What You Want, Wear What You Love (Ada Lovelace/Coder Barbie/Mashable Followup)
It’s Official: Smart Is the New Gangsta
Five tips for a happy math year
On Being Yourself While Doing Math – Guest Post Alert

Topic: girls and math

Guest Post Alert: Q&A with Danica McKellar about Hot X: Algebra Exposed!

Monday, November 8th, 2010


My interview with Danica McKellar about her latest math book for girls, Hot X: Algebra Exposed!, is now up over on the new GeekMom blog. Check it out!

McKellar, well-known for playing Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years,” went to college intending to study film, but signed up for math classes because her brain felt “mushy.” When solving equations felt like a “drug rush,” she became a math major and co-authored an original theorem.

Since then, McKellar has emerged as a unique math role model whose previous books, Math Doesn’t Suck and Kiss My Math, spread the message that brainy is beautiful, being good at math is just part of being fabulous, and math doesn’t have to be scary—all messages that are very close to my heart as a female math tutor.

Her latest book, Hot X: Algebra Exposed! is the first algebra book in the history of humankind to discuss both breakups and binomials. Step-by-step guidance on how to do algebra is interspersed with quizzes (“are you a perfectionist?”), stories from her own life about being an actress and a math major, and testimonials from women who use math in their careers, including a daredevil airshow pilot/astrophysics computing scientist.

Hot X Algebra Exposed

When I was in middle school and crying myself to sleep over my math homework, I would have been thrilled to have an algebra book that was this friendly, encouraging, and helpful. I’ve never seen another algebra text explicitly addressing the emotional aspects of learning math, which I know from experience are so important to girls. (And it’s not just me—one of my sixth-grade tutoring students saw the book in my apartment, picked it up and exclaimed, “This is perfect for me!”)

So click on over to the GeekMom blog to read about McKellar’s own experiences being terrified of math as a 7th grader and growing up to give math a PR overhaul.

(Many people conspired to make this interview possible: Elizabeth Keenan, Ken Denmead, Liz Jones-Dilworth, Josh Jones-Dilworth, Missy Mazzoli, and Jina Moore. Thank you all!!!)

*Looking for a girl math tutor? Call 617-888-0160 for an appointment with Rebecca Zook!

Related Posts:
My Favorite Math Teacher is a Woman
Be Yourself, Do What You Love, Wear What You Want
No More Girls Versus Boys

Topic: girls and math

No more girls versus boys

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

“Men and women, shoulder-to-shoulder, will work together to make this a better world,” remarked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “We will get there.”

While the festival addressed persistent gender disparity throughout our society, blogger Adriana Gardella reported that “speakers consistently rejected the notion … that women succeed at the expense of men.”

This hit home for me as an educator. Recently, as girls have closed the achievement gap in terms of math scores on standardized tests, some parents have asked, what about boys? If boys no longer outscore girls in math and science, and score behind girls in reading, will they be left behind in an educational system that seems to play to girls’ strengths? Or will men just become “obsolete” (as recently proposed by the Atlantic Monthly)?

I believe it’s not a zero sum game. When one group improves, it doesn’t have to be at the expense of anyone else. We can pull each other up.

Parents are concerned that boys—who generally need to move more and are usually more interested in math and science than reading—are being given the shaft in classrooms that, purposefully or not, promote values traditionally perceived as feminine, such as being obedient or sitting still and working quietly.

But a classroom that only encourages that kind of behavior isn’t good for girls either. Just because it’s easy for girls to sit still and work quietly doesn’t mean that they should all the time. Both boys and girls need to develop their own ideas and voices, learn to assert themselves, use their bodies, and make noise. And all kids, male or female, need to become both passionate readers and enthusiastic problem-solvers.

We all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table—not just as gender groups, but as individuals. For example, my neighbor recently declared to me that “yoga is good for girls.” He felt that because he wasn’t flexible, yoga wasn’t for him.

I tried to explain that yoga is about developing both strength and flexibility. Many men are naturally more stable—strength comes easily to them, but they need to cultivate their flexibility. But for most women, flexibility comes easily, but they need to cultivate their strength.

To me, yoga is about the balance of opposites—the courage to develop what doesn’t come easily as well as the guts to use and celebrate what does.

I think it’s the same thing with education. It’s not about girls versus boys, or rewarding what comes more easily to one group over the other.

The best education will help each individual tap into the core of who they are and become the most radiant version of themselves possible. True education helps us both to trust what’s inside—to stand up for our own ideas and our own vision—and to learn to do things that don’t come easily.

Topic: girls and math

Be Yourself, Do What You Love, Wear What You Want (Ada Lovelace/Coder Barbie/Mashable Follow-Up)

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Today, I’m guest posting on Mashable about why computer engineer Barbie is good for women in tech. I’m really proud of my article, so feel free to click over and read it in its entirety!

To summarize, critics have attacked the new computer engineer Barbie as being unrealistically feminine. But did you know that the very first computer programmer was a lady? Who wore frilly dresses and elaborate girly hairdos? Aw, yeah… ADA LOVELACE!!

Coder Barbie and Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer - which one is more "realistic"?

While my article focuses on the controversy surrounding computer engineer Barbie, I want to clarify my main point: everyone (male or female) should feel that they can be themselves while doing math, science, engineering, and technology.

Being Yourself
Many times, when I’m working with my math tutoring students, they’ll spontaneously create an awesome new problem solving technique. A student will stand up and map out an angle with their body by turning a certain number of degrees. Or bust out with new lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in order to remember how even numbers work.

I know that the only reason my students feel free to do these things is because they feel totally comfortable. And they wouldn’t learn as much, or be able to solve problems as well, if they didn’t feel like they could do these things.

When you feel like you can be yourself, it’s easier to ask questions, challenge convention, and come up with intuitive new solutions. Most of all, when you’re comfortable being yourself, you can access everything within you, and you have much greater resources to solve all kinds of problems. If you feel like you have to act a certain way, or need to leave pieces of yourself at the door (maybe the parts that love pink), bits of yourself that could help you solve problems get left behind.

(Not only does this apply to individuals, it also applies to teams working to create products. Pamela Fox points out that one of the signs of a wise crowd is diversity of opinion—when everyone can speak up, even if they’re not in agreement with the majority. Having different kinds of people in computer engineering—or math, or science—makes for stronger products.)

I’m not saying that women must be fashionistas or wear pink or be “feminine,” but that no one should have to choose between being themselves and doing what they love.

Workplace Reality
Female readers with tech careers commented on the pressures women face in male-dominated tech workplaces. Tweeter nostruminc remarked, “Now what the heck is wrong with a pink laptop? NOTHING. But it is intimidating being the only woman in a workplace.”

A friend of mine–an electronic engineer who now engineers solar technology–elaborated: For her, the problem is old-school male-engineer-dominated workplaces combined with American workaholism.

She’s found that when she’s been able to work with more women and the new breed of male engineers who grew up with female engineering classmates, the teams are more fun and more productive. The difference really just lies in the culture of the workplace and how women engineers are treated by their male coworkers.

Also, some commenters basically suggested that Barbie, in any form, just perpetuates gender stereotypes: “Boys have Legos, Playmobiles, toy soldiers, trains, workbenches, and astronauts. Girls have princesses, kitchens, sparkly cell phones and baby dolls to push around and practice raising.” But Barbie actually broke the mold. She was one of the first dolls who, as a single career girl, didn’t have to take care of anybody else—or be taken care of.

Additionally, I’m going to speak from personal experience. When I was growing up, my parents didn’t want me to internalize any stereotypes, so they gave me both toy trucks and dolls to play with. But I just wanted to play with dolls. When they gave me both pants and dresses, I only wanted to wear dresses.

Instead of trying to push me to play with trucks and wear pants, they just encouraged me, my whole life, to be myself and follow my passions, however they evolved.

Passion Turbocharges Your Brain
And there’s a neurological basis for my parents’ approach. Po Bronson points out that letting kids follow their passions actually “turbocharges” their brains.

Regardless of our potential moralistic objections to Barbie (or Pokémon), when kids are doing something they love—no matter what it is or whether it has ostensible “educational value”—their brains get spritzed with dopamine, which “depolarizes neurons and improves their firing rate; their response to optimal stimuli becomes sharper, and the background buzz of relevant stimuli is quieted a little.”

Over time, the repetition involved in pursuing your passions assists the myelination process, which increases neural speed “100 fold.” And that’s why Po Bronson is encouraging his 5-year-old daughter’s passion for princesses and Supergirl.

For a great explanation of how passion can change kids’ brains, check out Po Bronson‘s Daily Beast Article about how dumb toys can make kids smarter–in particular, Pokemon. (However, as I learned after corresponding with him after writing this blog post, Pokemon and Computer Engineer Barbie are not parallels, because Barbie does not have something like Pokemon’s extensive taxonomy and math calculation.)

All kinds of Computer Engineers
To those “nay-sayers” who see Barbie as a “devil-doll,” Alison Lewis commented, “Just get the girl coding and making…use it to start a discussion about technology, sit a girl down and do a fun little program, make something with electronics, or talk about other women in tech and how wonderful they are.” Lewis also adds that you can always modify Barbie’s outfit and hair if you don’t like them.

As Pamela Fox points out, “it’s not like I want the next generation of CS [Computer Science] geeks to all wear pink. I just want to get rid of the idea that CS geeks have to like anything in particular—except programming, of course. Ideally, there would be computer programmer Barbies in all flavors—punk goth, prep, jock, nun—and all races and genders.”

Because what does a “real” computer engineer look like? Like whatever you want to wear.

Related Posts:
My Favorite Math Teacher Is a Woman
Tips for How to Help Your Kids with their Math Homework
On being yourself while doing math
On Optimal Challenge
Praise and Intrinsic Motivation–An Answer?

Topic: girls and math

My Favorite Math Teacher Is A Woman

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

After my last post about how I used to cry myself to sleep over my math homework in middle school, one of my friends wanted to know, when did math start to make sense to me again?

Two words: Nancy Oliver.

My amazing ninth grade geometry teacher.

Nancy taught in a classroom where a former student had painted a colorful mural of the trig mnemonic “SOH CAH TOA” as a tribute to her on the back wall. In her room, I felt relaxed, focused, and safe. I had just spent three years of middle school algebra feeling panicked, utterly frustrated and incompetent in the math department. But with her instruction, I finally felt like math was something I was completely capable of doing.

How did she do it? Like any good teacher, she showed us what to do, and then gave us a chance to do it. At the beginning of each class, she’d demonstrate a new type of problem. Then, after answering our questions, she’d assign practice problems so we could practice what she’d just shown us. With her, even challenging proofs seemed like enjoyable puzzles to figure out. My brother and I still talk about what an amazing math teacher she was, over ten years after we took her class.

But when I reflected on my friend’s question, I realized something I’d never thought of before. Nancy Oliver, the only math teacher I had from 6th to 12th grade who was a woman, was also the only math teacher I had from 6th to 12th grade who really made sense to me. Coincidence?

Obviously there are some great male math teachers out there. I’ve worked with some of their students (Byron Parrish’s, at the Winsor School), I read their books and watched documentaries about them (Rafe Esquith), and I follow their blogs (Sam J. Shah). I was just never lucky enough to actually have one of them as a teacher myself! (Disclaimer: I also know from experience there are bad female math teachers out there.)

Maybe my personality and teaching/learning style was just more compatible with Nancy than with any of my other teachers. But it’s also possible that the fact that Nancy was a woman was a big part of why math finally started to make sense to me, a girl, when she was my teacher.

Maybe the secret ingredients were:

I felt completely comfortable asking her for help—more comfortable than I did with any other math teacher. I never, ever felt stupid or ashamed, no matter how confused I was. (In comparison, I often felt embarrassed asking my male teachers for help, even though I knew most of them wanted to be patient and kind with me.)

I understood her explanations. Nancy consistently explained things to me in a way that made sense to me. (I often felt discouraged even approaching my male math teachers for help. Not only did that mean I couldn’t figure it out by myself, but also, their explanations didn’t clear up my confusion as consistently as hers did.) It’s possible that Nancy approached math in a particular way as a woman that made it easier for me as a girl to understand her. Or, maybe she just had a larger repertoire of explanations than my male math teachers did.

She was a role model to me. Maybe I thought—even subconsciously—“if this awesome lady can do geometry, maybe I can too.”

Now that I’m a math tutor, I feel a special bond with many of my students who are girls. (I bond with my male students too, just over different things, like biking through Boston in the snow.) At first I thought that girly bonding—over the release of Mean Girls, or Betsey Johnson handbags shaped like strawberries, or mutual admiration for each other’s style—was just part of establishing rapport and helping my students feel comfortable. But now I wonder if maybe some girls just feel more comfortable with me as a role model because I’m female.

So, thank you, Nancy Oliver, for being my female math role model, and helping me turn everything around. I hope I can carry your torch!

Related Posts:
I cried myself to sleep over my math homework
On being yourself while doing math
Case study: regaining love of math
Case study: confused by math instruction in a foreign language