Monday, May 16, 2016

Inspiring HER Mind

“I hope we [Math Chicks] can help girls know that they’re worth more than what society thinks we can offer.”                                                                                     -Raegan, 17 years old

Four years ago, I was asked to teach AP Calculus in my school.  Although I knew it would be a lot of hard work reviewing the content and preparing lesson plans from scratch, I jumped at the chance.  When I received my roster, I was shocked to see that in a school of almost 2000 students only 11 students had signed up.  It turned out that this was typical in my school.  In previous years, we only had 5 or 6 students sign up for the course and we never had a full class.  So I spent the next couple of years trying to build our program.  I started by decorating my room to create a more inviting, fun, comfortable environment.  I used cow print everywhere to create my “COWculus” classroom.  Next, I invited the Chic-Fil-A cow to deliver lunch to my students during class change to get other students talking about the “weird” Calculus teacher down the hall that is obsessed with cows.  It really seemed to work.  I had students regularly stop by my room asking what I teach and how they could get in my class.  If I'm being truthful, a lot of them turned right back around and exited as quickly as they had entered.  But then there were those that stuck around for a bit, asking more questions and yearning to hear more.  In a matter of only three years, I went from having 11 students in my class to having two full sections of 65 students. Now THAT really felt great!  

“Girls view mathematics and other STEM fields as just for boys, but they aren't.  Math class is my favorite and what I look forward to everyday"
                                 -Maggie, 17 years old

  I was really pleased with my results until I started noticing that the number of boys in my classes consistently outnumbered the girls.  Year after year, I would have a few girls sprinkled into what seemed like a sea of boys.  At the beginning of the current school year, I was invited to participate in the CTEPS (Classroom Teachers Enacting Positive Solutions) program where I began to look more closely at the gender gap which seemed to exist in my classes.  Of the 11 students signed up for my class the first year, only two were girls.  Yes, TWO!  The following year, I only had 3 girls in a class of 18.  I reached out to other AP Calculus teachers in my area and found similar statistics.  In digging further, the same seemed to be true at the national level.  In 1997, College Board reports 8433 girls took the AP Calculus BC exam compared to 14,235 boys.  More recent data  shows approximately 42K girls vs. 62K boys taking the exam in 2013.

Courtney M, Tara B, Jusstine H, Nick R, Dawson M, James S, Jonathan C, Zack R, Cody D, Lincoln S, and Alex L taking a photo opportunity with the Chick-fil-A mascot.

Somewhere along the way, girls are losing confidence in their mathematical ability and interest in the subject matter.  I really want to make a change, but I realize that it can't happen overnight.  I decided to start in my own school, so I recruited several girls from my AP Calculus classes to form a group we lovingly named the Math Chicks.  Over the course of this year, we have been visiting elementary and middle schools in our area, pulling out the girls in the class to teach them fun, interactive lessons.  Before Christmas, we visited a fourth grade classroom where the Math Chicks taught a lesson on fractions and measurement.  The students were asked to calculate a fraction of a recipe and then measure the ingredients to form a Holiday cookie jar they could take home as a gift for a loved one.  Next, we visited a middle school classroom where the Math Chicks taught a lesson on Mean, Median and Mode.  The students were asked to build a 3D airplane model,  and then we went outside to test flying them and to collect a series of data.  All of the girls really seemed to have a great time and enjoy themselves while learning mathematics.  We are trying to foster a love of mathematics that we hope will stay with them throughout the coming years.  We hope that these young girls will be inspired initially and continue to be inspired as we continue to touch base with them throughout their academic careers.  

“It is important and vital to see women fulfilling STEM careers.  We [Math Chicks] are here to encourage young girls to continue into higher level math classes and to understand they have the potential and equal opportunity to hold a career in a math related field.”
                                -Morgan, 17 years old

Kaleigh D, Raegen C, Molly M, Ivanna S, Julia M, Jamey V, and myself having a blast shopping for materials for our lessons.

Raegan C. and Kaleigh D. helping Bethann W, Dashoni E, and Alleigh T measure the ingredients for their Holiday Cookie Jars.

“Math Chicks motivates me to try things that I first thought were unachievable and out of my comfort zone.”
                                     Molly, 17 years old

The feedback has been wonderful.  The elementary and middle school girls we have worked with feel empowered and they are bragging to their male classmates about the cool things they are getting to do.  The teachers from those schools are telling me that the boys are really jealous and wanting to know what this is all about.  The boys in my AP Calculus class are also asking questions and asking if they can form their own group of Math Dudes!  It is really cool to see how the dynamic has changed in my classes and how the girls in my class have really gained confidence themselves as a result of being a part of this group.  They participate more in class and support each other with a feeling of pride when one of the girls answers a question or makes a point.  

Jamey V, Kaleigh D, and Angel B picking up the 3D planes after the middle school girls had completed the first round of testing.

Jamey V and Jamie O helping Emily W and Karlee K construct 3D airplanes.

What are YOU going to do to empower females in mathematics?

It should be the goal of ALL high school Calculus teachers to champion such a group.  Please join me in this quest and form your own group to encourage and inspire girls.  This will provide the support young girls need to maintain their confidence in their mathematical abilities and motivate them to continue their journey and love of mathematics.    

                                               Raegan C.

                                                        Molly M.

Follow me on Twitter @CowculusQueen to hear more about the changes we are making for girls in Mathematics and follow our group @MathChicks to see the fun we have while doing it!

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