Add It Up Blogger Melanie Edwards
Gender and cultural barriers in math education have lessened since I was a student (and definitely since generations before), but there are still improvements to be made. I earned an engineering degree which means I took a lot of math courses in high school and college. I was often the only female and in many cases, the only person of color, in many of my classes. Rather than discourage me, it motivated me to succeed – not only for myself, but for my future children. I felt a need to push beyond barriers to benefit future generations.
The barriers I experienced weren’t excessive, but even little issues don’t go unnoticed. Being the only female in a class full of fifty students can be intimidating and can easily make you nervous. All too often, I sat at the back of the class and quietly listened to the lecture without much interaction. Studying was often done alone as well. Eventually, I had to push past the intimidation and become more aggressive in order to improve my learning experience. I had to take control of my own education.
Now that I have an elementary school-aged daughter and toddler son, not to mention a husband who shares my passion for education, math is a popular topic in our household. I definitely would not want either my daughter or son to ever feel intimidated as I did. I’d like to think that we have a few tricks up our sleeve to help our children feel there are no barriers in their way.
Here are a couple of ideas to help break cultural and gender barriers in math and encourage an all-around appreciation for math.
Expose All Children to Diverse Historical Figures in Math
From reading biographies about people like Euphemia Lofton Haynes, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics, or Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, to learning about and exploring the lives of many other women and men from varied backgrounds, showing real-life historical examples of breaking barriers is a great way to show our kids that math can be for anyone. You can find many resources online that provide historical background on women in mathematics, minorities in math, famous historical figures in math, and information on notable firsts in math within various ethnic groups.
Relay Personal Experiences
In sharing our own personal experiences and funny stories regarding our education in math, my husband and I hope our children will find something they can relate to. Even if they don’t share the same experiences, hearing personal stories from us will help them understand their own situations a little better. At the very least, our children will learn that even their parents overcame barriers in math and that they’re not alone. Despite statistical predictions, they have a mom who earned an engineering degree regardless of being a minority woman – I can’t think of a better real-life example for my children.
Have Fun with Math Each Day
Including math in everyday conversations and activities will show our children that math is all around us and will help them appreciate math. Hopefully this will translate into them feeling that despite what society may or may not tell them about their abilities when it comes to math, they are the only ones in control of their passion for the subject – they are not at the mercy of any cultural or gender stigmas.
What else can we do as parents to break cultural and gender barriers in math?