Academic journal article Education

Elementary Girls' Attitudes toward Mathematics in Mixed-Gender and Single-Gender Classrooms

Academic journal article Education

Elementary Girls' Attitudes toward Mathematics in Mixed-Gender and Single-Gender Classrooms

Article excerpt

By the time girls are second graders, they may be exhibiting negative attitudes toward math (Cvencek, Meltzoff, & Greenwald, 2011). McFarland, Benson and McFarland (2011) examined girls' math achievement in single-gender and mixed-gender classrooms and suggest that single-gendered formats can help females. In this study, we compare the math attitudes of 168 elementary girls in mixed-gender and single-gender classrooms. Although results suggest that girls in both class types have positive attitudes toward math, there are interesting distinctions.

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By the time girls are in second grade, they may already be exhibiting negative attitudes toward mathematics (Cvencek, Meltzoff, & Greenwald, 2011). They may doubt their own ability and believe in the gender stereotype that girls are not good in mathematics. In fact, they may try to "stay under the radar" during math class out of fear of being embarrassed or judged by their peers and the teacher (Beilock, Gunderson, Ramirez, & Levine, 2010). Girls' fears and anxieties toward mathematics may even prevent the math knowledge they do possess to be used to solve problems. In other words, their gender-biased expectations may lead to lower achievement and lower math self-concept.

Girls' mathematics attitudes form as a result of environmental influences, especially those that occur in interactions with parents and teachers (Gunderson, Ramirez, Levine, & Beilock, 2012; Tomasetto, Alparone, & Cadinu, 2011). Dweck (2006) recommends that girls' mathematics perceptions and achievement be encouraged by creating a "growth mindset" instead of a "fixed mindset" in the classroom. In other words, girls tend to attribute boys' math successes predominately to ability, while they attribute their own to extra hard work. When challenged, girls with this mindset tend to give up because they think they will never be good at math. This is what Dweck called a fixed mindset: females demonstrate an initial lack of confidence when math is challenging because they believe that they should not have to work as hard as they do if they are truly smart. As a result, they end up questioning their overall intelligence and mathematical ability because they think that they just are not good at it. In contrast, the goal should be introducing females to a growth mindset: females learn to demonstrate a belief that hard work and effort when things are challenging actually builds confidence because they are learning and progressing by challenging themselves. This then diminishes their belief that boys are the only smart students in math. Therefore, teachers need to communicate the "growth mindset" with their students in order to increase females' interest, confidence, and achievement in mathematics so that they are more likely to have a positive experience and future in the field (Dweck, 2006).

A key to building girls' interest, performance, and achievement in math and other subjects may be by providing gender-specific classrooms. McFarland, Benson and McFarland (2011) examined girls' math achievement in a single-gender classroom as compared to a traditional mixed-gendered classroom. Their findings suggest that a single-gendered format can help females. They suggest that girls in a single-gender classroom may receive more attention and help. Additionally, math instruction can be better designed to accommodate female specific mathematical needs (McFarland et al., 2011). In this study, we examine the math attitudes of 168 elementary school girls. Specifically, we compare the math attitudes of girls in mixed-gender and single-gender classrooms.

Method

This study examines the mathematics attitudes of elementary school girls enrolled in mixed-gender and single-gender classrooms in a public elementary school. The elementary school houses approximately 650 students in grades preK-5. Of the 650 students, approximately 55% are White, 23% are Black, 16% are Hispanic, 5% are multiracial and 1% are Asian. …

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