Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thoughts on Mathematics

I don't know why, but I woke up this morning thinking about a high school girl who comes to Sylvan for homework support. I've been amazed by her progress as she works through Algebra II. This got me to thinking...

I'm certified for middle school mathematics, and if I go back to teaching, I definitely want to teach math. I'm pretty much done teaching language arts (at least I think so...the Lord may have a different plan). I have never had a male math teacher, which I think is weird since girls tend to shy away from math. Eli and I got into the conversation this morning (yes, I realize it's still only 7 a.m.) about whether this phenomenon is inherent or environmental--the old nature vs. nurture debate. I will stick to my guns that it is environmental (nurture). Here's why:

In Texas, to get the advanced diploma when I was in high school, I only had to have three math credits. Because I took algebra in eighth grade, that meant I had to go all the way through trigonometry and elementary analysis, at minimum, in my junior year. For those first three years--geometry, algebra II, and trig/EA--there were plenty of girls in my classes, because there were plenty of girls who were ambitious enough to want the advanced diploma, who wanted to improve their transcripts for college admission, and who wanted the advanced point rating on their GPAs. But evidently that was the end of their interest in math.

It never occurred to me that I shouldn't take calculus as a senior. I was on a roll with 4 credits in each of my academic subjects, and just assumed that everyone else would be, too. Come to find out, all the boys that I was friends with went on to take calculus--and consequently, mostly went on to be engineers and insurance adjusters, etc--but none of my girl friends did. In fact, in a graduating class of close to 400 students, there were only 4 girls in calculus my senior year. Not one of the four of us was raised entirely in the community, though several had been there for a few years. These were the girls:

Urmi -- parents were Indian, and had spent her childhood in India, fluent in Urdu
Agnieszka -- parents were Polish, had lived part of her childhood in Poland, fluent in Polish
Lindsay -- parents were missionaries in Venezuela, had lived part of her childhood there, fluent in Spanish
Me -- parents were Yankees, had lived part of my childhood in Germany, was interested in other languages (German/Spanish), but was not fluent in anything other than English

So, yes, of the four of us, I was the weakest link. I've marveled over this internationalism/math link for years. At the time, I knew it was a phenomenon, and it still surprises me to think about it. We were products of our environments, but not the environment provided in Crowley, TX. The boys, however, were a different story. They were born and raised in Crowley, for the most part, and encouraged to do well in maths and sciences. And yes, there were only 20 boys out of a class of 400 in calculus, but seriously?? The girls were outnumbered 5 to1.

Despite my successes in math, I never even considered engineering as a career. I also never considered Ohio State. Looking back I can't figure out why, except that the Lord had a different plan for me. But, I do have a mathematical mind. I'm a problem solver. That's part of the reason Eli was attracted to me...something about being a "rational female." Although I suspect he's found out that at times that was just a ruse after being my significant other now for almost nine years. Haha. I remember once he sent a letter to the house addressed to "The Rational Female," and Dad brought it to me, so I suppose Eli wasn't too far from the mark (or Dad noticed the AL return address or something).

The thought of raising a little girl is terrifying. I feel like there are so many forces already working against her before she even arrives.

I want her to find her athletic niche.
I want her to find her creative niche.
I want her to find her musical niche.
I want her to find her academic niche.

But most of all, I don't want to inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes.

Maybe I'm thinking about this too hard.


Colleen said...

Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I grew up not too far from you (30 miles?) in Dville and I had a large graduating class, but there were also TONS of girls in all my math classes. Alegebra in 8th, then Honors Geometry, Honors Algebra 2, Honors Precalculus and AP BC Calculus (which was the hardest one). I grew up in the same city (as did many of my friend in calculus) I went to hs. Anyway, I'm trying to say that I'm sure you'll raise a smart, well-behaved child. yay for that!

Also: you say you never considered Ohio State. Should you have? There are probably lots of schools you never considered, why is OSU special?

Beaver said...

Hey Colleen! I was worried maybe you had fallen off the face of the earth! Glad to see you around here again. :)

Ohio State is my dad's alma mater. I was born at the medical center there, and I was raised wearing OSU gear. My whole family is from Ohio, etc. It's just weird that that never even came up.

And I can't say for sure, but I feel like Crowley is a little more rural than Dville. I may be wrong. A whole lot of kids from my high school wanted to go to A&M and major in ag subjects. Still stickin' with my theory. Haha. :)

Craig-Jen said...

My high school was in Houston and my graduating class was 600+. There were TONS of girls in my AP calculus class. I don't know the entire break down, but I know that there was more than one AP calculus class and demographics were pretty equal. Also, of all my friends that I still keep up with in high school, I do think all of the girls were in that class and the majority of them were born and raised in Houston. The only exception is a friend who immigrated here from Korea when she was seven. Maybe it's a smaller city mentality (although a class size of 400 is pretty large), but there didn't seem to be a disparity between females and males taking advanced math at my high school. That's only one sampling of data, so it could be completely untrue. I don't know :-)

I'm sure baby Beaver is going to be math oriented!

Misty said...

Totally unrelated, but God and time will only know. I pray that her heart finds God at a young age. He will guide her to what she's supposed to do! And of course, she'll be smart too! :)