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Posts Tagged ‘girls and math’


Dr. Jonathan Kane will guide students through important theorems from “the results about angles in circles” to the “theory of inversion.”  He will then derive parametric equations for hypocycloids and similar curves.   Finally, the students will tackle many circle related problems which can be solved using these theorems.

Dr. Kane and Dr. Andreescu are the founders of the popular PurpleComet! problem solving contest.   Many people around the world have been talking about the paper authored by Dr. Kane and Dr. Janet Mertz, “Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance.”  This follows another very popular paper by Kane, Mertz, Gallian and Andreescu called “Cross-Cultural Analysis of Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical Problem Solving.”

In these papers, Dr. Kane and his co-authors challenge the idea of a biological explanation for the difference in mathematical achievement by young men and women.  Instead they describe the many ways that cultural forces create a significant challenge to US students and particularly young women who would otherwise excel at mathematics and problem solving.  Certainly the outstanding performance of Lisa Sauermann at the International Mathematical Olympiad demonstrates this great potential.

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Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 Math Prize for Girls.  This growing contest sponsored by Akamai is encouraging extraordinary talent such as these top 10 winners:

  1. Danielle Wang (8th grade, California Virtual Academy, CA), $25,000 (Score 19)
  2. Elizabeth Synge (12th grade, Boston University Academy, MA), $10,000 (Score 18)
  3. In Young Cho (12th grade, Exeter, NH), $2700 (Score 17)
  4. Jae Shin (12th grade, Andover, MA), $2700 (Score 17)
  5. Alissa Zhang (11th grade, Saratoga HS, CA), $2700 (Score 17)
  6. Corinne Madsen (12th grade, IMSA, IL), $1000 (Score 16)
  7. Jessie Duan (12th grade, NCSSM, NC), $1000 (Score 16)
  8. Harlin Lee (11th grade, Exeter, MA), $300 (Score 15)
  9. Elizabeth Shen (11th grade, South Mecklenburg HS, NC), $300 (Score 15)
  10. Moya Chen (12th grade, Vernon Hills HS, IL), $300 (Score 15)

Regrettably, only one Texan, the very talented Lilly Shen, was represented in the top 35.  Math Circles are an excellent way to attract young girls to problem solving and to help them retain their interest through their school years.

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Here is an interesting article from MIT on patterns in high math achievement based on a study of AMC data.  This research follows on the heels of the paper written by Dr. Andreescu and his colleagues last year.  The study seems to conclude that girls (and presumably also boys) thrive when they are able to study math in a community that reinforces their interests and encourages their talents.

Here are some key excerpts from the article:

Ellison and Swanson arrived at their findings by using a novel source of data: the American Mathematics Competitions (AMC), a 60-year-old annual contest involving 125,000 exceptional high-school students. A select group of students who do especially well on the AMC compete in a series of annual competitions, the U.S. Mathematical Olympiad and the International Mathematical Olympiad. This focus on standout students differs from most studies about math and gender in schools…

The numbers Ellison and Swanson scrutinized indicate that the gender disparity among star math students widens as performance levels increase. In 2007, about 800,000 girls took the math SAT, compared to about 700,000 boys. Yet at the 99th percentile of the math SATs, boys outnumber girls two to one. In their research, Ellison and Swanson divide that upper tier into even smaller segments, using AMC results. Among students in the 94th percentile of the AMC tests, they found, the top boys outnumbered the top girls four to one; at the 99th AMC percentile, six to one; and at the 99.9th AMC percentile, 12 to one…

Ellison thinks this huge gender disparity is linked to another fact: Among those students scoring so highly on the AMC and participating in the math Olympiads, the range of high schools represented is much greater for boys than for girls. “The top boys in the Olympiads come from all over the United States,” says Ellison. “Some of them are from big powerhouse schools, and some are from schools where they’re the only student who’s really good at math. But it’s these 20 high schools where the majority of the girls are coming from.” Those institutions range from Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite New England prep school, to a fistful of public high schools in Northern California, from Palo Alto to San Jose. By contrast, Ellison and Swanson note, half of the boys in the Olympiads come from about 200 high schools…

O’Keeffe, who has a daughter who competed in the math Olympiad, is inclined to agree. “Anecdotally, I do think the difference a community makes is enormous,” she says. “If you’re lucky enough to be at a school with a math club, you might be the only girl in it. At Exeter or Stuyvesant [a prominent Manhattan public high school], you might be in a minority, but you won’t be alone.” To be more rigorous, though, Ellison wants to track many individual students over time…

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Sharon Begley uses Dr. Andreescu’s recent study to make her case against a biological explanation for the fact that boys have historically out performed girls in higher math.

There is no denying that, at the elite levels of math, men vastly outnumber women. Women received 27 percent of the Ph.D.s in math awarded by American universities from 1993 to 2002, edging up to a still-woeful 29 percent last year. They make up only 19 percent of the tenure-track faculty in math departments. No woman has ever won a Fields Medal, the “math Nobel.” The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, which looks at kids younger than 13 who score 700 or above on the math part of the SAT, found a 13-to-1 boy-girl imbalance, implying what the researchers called “superior male mathematical ability.”

Now for the “however” part. That 13-to-1 ratio was true in 1983. In 2005 it fell to 2.8 to 1. Nothing in the brain that is “hard-wired” can change that quickly. Cross-cultural data on young people with off-the-scale math ability are even more telling, as researchers will report in next month’s issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

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The responses continue to the study by Dr. Andreescu and his colleagues.  Geekdad, a blog of Wired Magazine, has the following article which contains contributions from Mary O’Keefe, mother of IMO team member Alison Miller.  Mary hits themes that Richard Rusczyk stressed in his talk, particularly the importance of play and community.

I know that Alison got an enormous sense of belonging out of her first math Olympiad summer training camp experience, and it literally transformed her life. Melanie Wood was a staff member at Alison’s first camp and I think she deserves an enormous amount of credit for her leadership in transforming the culture there. Alison has tried to “pay that forward” by mentoring younger students and helping to create mathematical communities they could enjoy. For Alison and Melanie, I think coaching and mentoring has been even more fun and rewarding than competing.

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RedOrbit has also picked up the coverage of the new study by Dr. Andreescu and his colleagues.

US Culture Neglects Girl Math Whizzes

Posted on: Friday, 10 October 2008, 10:50 CDT

A culture of neglect and, at some age levels, outright social ostracism, is derailing a generation of students, especially girls, deemed the very best in mathematics, according to a new study.

In a report published today (Oct. 10) in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, a comprehensive analysis of decades of data on students identified as having profound ability in math describes a culturally constricted pipeline that puts American leadership in the mathematical sciences and related fields at risk.

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Following is more global coverage of the recent study by Dr. Andreescu and his peers. Click the logo below for the whole story:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Americans may like to make fun of girls who are good at math, but this attitude is robbing the country of some of its best talent, researchers reported on Friday.

They found that while girls can be just as talented as boys at mathematics, some are driven from the field because they are teased, ostracized or simply neglected.

“The U.S. culture that is discouraging girls is also discouraging boys,” Janet Mertz, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who led the study said in a statement.

“The situation is becoming urgent. The data show that a majority of the top young mathematicians in this country were not born here.”

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Melanie Wood, former IMO team member and doctoral student at Princeton.

Melanie Wood, former IMO team member and doctoral student at Princeton.

Dr. Andreescu’s study is getting global attention including this widely read New York Times article. While the article and study describe the problem in great detail, we are fortunate that one of the solutions is the community provided by MMC and other Math Circles.

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This article is so central to the mission of Math Circle that I am reproducing it here in its entirety.  Dr. Titu Andreescu, Director of MMC, was a primary contributor to this study:

U.S. Culture Blamed for Lack of Girl Math Experts

Study Blames Peer Pressure and Lack of Challenging Coursework as Obstacles

Oct. 10, 2008

A new study published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society says there’s no shortage of American girls with an aptitude for math, but the crux of the study reveals a troubling trend.

The study, Cross-Cultural Analysis of Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical Problem Solving, identifies obstacles such as peer pressure and other societal issues that keep girls from pursuing education and careers in mathematics.

Study co-author Titu Andreescu, UT Dallas associate professor and director of AwesomeMath, said the problem is largely domestic.

“Innate math aptitude is probably fairly evenly distributed throughout the world, regardless of race or gender,” Andreescu said. “The huge differences observed in achievement levels are most likely due to socio-cultural attributes specific to each country.”

Janet Mertz, the study’s lead author and a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, said in a recent release, “We are wasting this valuable resource. There are some truly phenomenal women mathematicians out there.”

The study, based on data from elite math competitions, reveals:

  • No national shortage of girls who are talented mathematicians.
  • Girls do excel at math, despite myths to the contrary.
  • American children feel discouraged from pursuing careers and education in math.
  • Emphasis on mathematics at home and school is much greater internationally than it is in America.
  • Children from Europe and Asia—where math is highly emphasized—are much more likely to be identified as extraordinary at math.
  • The career/education pipeline for nurturing top math talent in the U.S. breaks down by middle school.
  • 80 percent of female and 60 percent of male faculty hired in recent years by the very top U.S. research university mathematics departments were born in other countries.

Elementary school girls tend to do as well or better in math than their boy classmates, and the authors suggest that peer pressure and societal expectations cause girls to begin falling behind or losing interest in math by middle school. Worse, some girls may even hide their aptitude or interest in math to avoid ridicule.

The study says the U.S. is heavily reliant on hiring math experts from outside the country, and that talent pool may soon dry up as math experts stay home to take advantage of opportunities in their own countries. The lack of top-flight mathematicians and scientists could, as the report suggests, put the economy of the U.S. in further jeopardy.


Media Contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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