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Gender differences

Gender differences

The topic of my research has been differences in math learning and

aptitude between boys and girls. This topic was suggested to me by my

mentor, Mike Millo, as it is of particular interest to him. Mr. Millo is an

Algebra teacher at Ball High. Much has been made of gender differences

in math by the popular media and Mr. Millo felt that it would be

interesting to examine this topic and explore the findings of educational

researchers. I also found this topic personally intriguing as I am currently

reading the book, Failing At Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls, by

Myra and David Sadker (1994), which explores gender bias in all area of

education. In researching this topic I found many related research articles

and extensive articles where relevant variables had been measured. I tried

to focus on highly relevant articles, which examined specifically the

different abilities of males and females in math or sought explanations for

those differences. With one exception, the studies I reviewed supported

that there are differences in math related achievement between males and

females. Two of thr articles I reviewed focus on the differences in teacher

interaction with male and female students in math class rooms. The

Structure of Abilities in Math-Precocious Young Children: Gender

Similarities and Differences by: Nancy Orbinson, Robert D. Abbott,

Virginia W. Berninger, and Julie Busse (1996), the following research

questions were explored: 1. Can young children who are advanced in

mathematical reasoning be located efficiently by soliciting parent

nominations? 2. Do measures of these children's cognitive abilities in other

domains also show advancement and, if so, to what degree? 3. How do

measures in verbal and visual-spatial domains relate to mathematical skills

for subgroups divided by grade and gender? 4. What, if any, cognitive

gender differences emerge within this group of young precocious

children? My interest was focused on the last question, which relates to

gender differences. The study showed gender differences apparent in

every analysis. However, the study does not propose reasons for these

differences. One of the possible implications of this study, that gender

related differences in math ability are apparent from such a young age

conflicts with information presented some of the other papers I reviewed.

In three studies, there is a great emphasis on gender related abilities in

math which are related to adolescence. In Gender Roles in Marriage:

What do They Mean for Girls' and Boys' School Achievement, by

Kimberly A. Updegraff, Susan M. McHale and Ann C. Crouter (1996),

the researchers evaluate differences in family dynamics to determine what

implications these might have for gender related math ability. This article

was very interesting, although the research question was biting off more

than it could chew. What this article finds is that girls from families who

have a more egalitarian family structure are less likely to suffer a decline in

math ability at adolescence. This article also suggests that it is not the girls

"hard wiring" which causes math ability differences. I interpret this article

as implying that the root of the problem could be in gender role stereo

types. In Single Sex Math Classes: What and For Whom? One School's

Experiences, Richard Durost (1996) reports that when administrators

talked to many of the girls in his school, the girls stated that they felt

mentally intimidated by the boys. Teachers noted that boys asked

questions, talked and competed, while girls tended to reflect, listen, and

cooperate. In an attempt to deal with gender related performance issues,

Mr. Durost's school implemented a all female section Algebra I. The

females who participated in the pilot program did show an increase in

their math scores. This paper suggests that the differences in math ability

are not "hard wired". That it may not be a difference in a girl's ability to

"do" math or learn math, but perhaps a difficulty in a girls ability to interact

in a co-educational math related settings which determines her math

success. In other words, there might not be a math problem in and of

itself but perhaps math differences were one manifestation of differences

in inter-gender communication and interaction styles. In Gender Based

Education: Why it Works at the Middle School Level, William C, Perry

(1996), the principal of a middle school cites studies from the American

Association of University Women (1991, 1992), supporting the theory

that gender related math ability differences don't become manifest until

middle school. Mr. Perry was very concerned about reports he had read

or heard presented showing that there is bias against girls in the

classrooms. In response to the researchers concerns, a study was done in

which participating students were assigned to same sex classes. The study

reports increased grade point averages for both boys and girls

participating in the study. I would have liked to see the standardized test

scores for both groups of students. While grades are one indicator of

performance, it seems that if there is bias in teaching styles, there could be

bias in grading. Standardized scores could give a better vantage point for

analyzing actual differences in math comprehension. This study ties in with

the following two studies which point to an institutionalized problem In G.

Leder's research, Teacher Student Interactions in the Mathematics

Classroom: A Different Perspective, the researcher video tapes classes to

determine types and frequency of interactions with students. this was

correlated with test scores, perception reports from teachers as well as

self reports of math perceived math ability of the students. In this study,

males and females were relatively equal in ability n the lower grade levels,

but males tended to do better in the 10th grade level. This becomes very

intriguing when it is noted that self report and teacher reports of perceived

ability consistently rated the males higher. The qualitative aspects of this

study examined content and frequency of teacher comments. There was

no significant difference between males and females. In J. Becker's

research, Differential Treatment of Females and Males in Mathematics

Classes, the researcher observed 10 classrooms for a total of 10 days.

She collected both qualitative and quantitative data. The author concludes

that there is very clearly differences in the interactions between teachers

and students depending on the students gender. These differences

consistently favor the males. This study also reveals that both the

classrooms and teachers themselves reinforce gender stereotypes

portraying math as a male realm. this researcher asserts that the failure of

females to excel in math is attributable to self fulfilling prophecy: girls are

not expected by themselves or their teachers to do well, therefore,

ultimately, they do not. My last two articles examine gender differences at

the university level. The first of these two does not examine math ability,

but rather attention to numerical information in gender related contexts.

The Numbers Game: Gender and Attention to Numerical Information, by

Jackson, Fleury, Girvin and Gerard (1995), compared men's and

women's abilities to recall numerical information when it was presented in

a gender related context. Not surprisingly, men were better at recalling

data in male settings than women were. However, of the three context

categories (male, female, neutral) both men and women did best in the

neutral categories and worst in the female categories. The author suggests

that this could reflect the tendency of the culture to view female related

activities as less important than male or gender-neutral activities. The final

article I reviewed was Gender and Mathematics Achievement Parity:

Evidence from Post-Secondary Education, by Amin M. Kianian (1995).

This study seemed flawed in several ways. The study examines the grades

of all of the students from one teacher's university level math classes over

a period of three years and then compares them for gender differences.

His findings are that there are no significant differences between men's

and women's math grades at the university level. I believe this study could

be better than it is, because it does not show whether or not the men and

women actually had a demonstratedly equal math ability. Grades could be

very subjective. Accepted at face value, however, it could be suggested

that this might imply that the gender related issues so prominent in the

eyes of some researchers when examining the adolescent population,

have disappeared by the time students go to college. I realize that this

would be stretching the relevance of the study to go this far, but there are

implications along these lines. Overall, after reviewing the articles which

were summarized, I find myself drawn to the information showing that the

gender differences in math ability seem to be predominantly manifest

during adolescence. As many of the studies suggest, this is likely to be

associated with interpersonal and self esteem issues. Many issues come to

mind for further research. 1.) Self esteem in adolescent girls and the

correlation with math ability. 2.) Does participation in sports affect gender

related math learning? 3.) What are the implications of single sex

classrooms for later learning? Are single sex class rooms creating a false

environment, thus setting females up for "gender shock" later in life or

education? 4.) What are the implications of female math teachers in the

classrooms for gender related differences in math abilities. 5.) A cohort

study of x population tracking them over and extended period of time to

see at what points math ability, self esteem, and other related variables

fluctuate. Some of these topics would be very suitable for immediate

research. Others, would be best left to highly funded groups or

government agencies. For my further research, I would like to explore the

relationship between assertiveness in adolescent girls and its relationship

to their math success. More specifically, I would like to devise a study

that examines whether or not assertiveness training in adolescent girls

would impact their math success. References American Association of

University Women. (1991). Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America.

American Association of University Women: Washington, DC American

Association of University Women. (1992). How Schools Shortchange

Girls. American Association of University Women: Washington, DC

Becker, J. (1981). differential treatment of females and males in

mathematics classes. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 12,

40-53. Durost, R. (1996). Single sex math classes: What and for whom?

One school's experiences. Bulletin, 80, 27-31. Jackson, L., Fleury, R.,

Girvin, J., & Gerard. D. (1995). The numbers game: Gender and

attention to numerical information. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. 33,

559-569. Kianian, A. (1995). Gender and mathematics achievement

parity: Evidence from post-secondary education. Education, 116,

586-592. Leder, G. (1990). Teacher/student interactions in the

mathematics classroom: A different perspective. From Fenema, E. &

Leder, G. (Eds.). Mathematics and Gender: Influences on Teachers and

Students. New York, Teachers College. Orbinson, N., Abbott, R.,

Berninger, V., & Busse, J. (1996). The structure of abilities in math

precocious young children: Gender similarities and differences. Journal of

Educational Psychology, 88, 341-352. Perry, W. (1996). Gender based

education: Why it works at the middle school level. Bulletin, 80, 32-35.

Sadker, M & Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools

Cheat Girls. New York: Touchstone. Updergraff, K., McHale, S., &

Crouter, A. (1996). Gender roles in marriage: What do they mean for

boys' and girls' school achievement?. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,

25, 73-89.

Word Count: 1866

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