Myth that mathsis for the boys

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Girls may not think they are good at maths even when they are, research has found.

Heather Mendick of Lancaster university, said maths is often presented as a boys' subject. She found that even girls doing two maths A-levels may not think they have mathematical ability.

Dr Mendick said: "Maths is seen in films such as A Beautiful Mind as very masculine and slightly strange. There is also the idea that you are either born with the ability to do maths or not.

"You don't get that with English where there is a feeling that almost everybody can learn to read. But there is a strong sense that there is a maths 'gene'.

"That causes a real problem in how children relate to maths, particularly for girls, because it is seen as something boys have."

Government statistics show almost 36,000 11-year-old girls who reached the expected level for their age in English have failed to do so in maths.

And 1 per cent of girls - about 3,000 - got level 5 in English but level 3 in maths in last year's key stage 2 tests while 9 per cent of boys did better at English than maths.

"High-achieving girls aspire to achieve, but are not being motivated," said Professor Leone Burton, emeritus professor at Birmingham university. "There was room for imagination and creativity in maths for a short while before the national numeracy strategy. Teachers now feel more confident, but kids are not more interested. It is about following notes with little creativity, little imagination.

"A high-achieving girl may see maths as a discipline in which you get the right answer or the wrong answer. But that is to diminish the subject enormously."

The Office for Standards in Education said that although maths is one of the strongest subjects in primaries, there was a lack of imagination in teaching methods.

Its report on primary maths, published earlier this year, said: "Teachers'

talk predominated at the expense of pupils' learning and teachers had low expectations of what the pupils should be expected to do for themselves."

It added that teachers in many schools needed to strengthen their own maths knowledge.

Tim Coulson, director of the National Numeracy Strategy, said: "We are concerned about girls who are on track to achieve average levels in English and maths at age seven, but who by age 11 do well in English and dip back in maths.

"We are trying to raise awareness of this issue and we have feedback from pilots that the use of whiteboards can help girls' understanding of maths."

Teacher magazine 22

leader 20

Mathematicians as inquirers: learning about learning mathematics. Kluwer, Boston. Leone Burton

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