Girls aren't good at math. Left-handed people aren't good at math. Athletic people aren't good at math. Pick a demographic and there is likely a stereotype about whether or not they are good at math.
In the 5th grade, there was a particular math lesson I really enjoyed that got me excited. I had the idea that when I went to college, I would major in math. I did well another couple of years. However, in the 7th grade I had a dull older professor who perpetuated the "girls can't do math" myth. Once I had questions, it was decided that I couldn't "do math." No tutoring. No help with homework. I didn't "get it" immediately because I'm a girl. End of math career.
In high school, the instructors and other adults had me honestly believing I had something in my brain that made it impossible for me to do math. I really believed it and told others as much. Additionally, I met others that had the same "learning disability."
In my freshman year in college, I started with the most remedial math class. The professor was an interesting woman who was patient and she loved the subject. The first order of business was to have us read "Overcoming Math Anxiety" by Sheila Tobias. The book honestly changed my life. First published in 1978, it dispelled the long-held myths that women were predisposed to failure at math. We don't have a genetic block preventing us from doing well in math, science, or technology. Period.
Of course, I ran into other women who were convinced they also had this mysterious mental block. One in particular would raise her hand at the conclusion of every algebra class and ask in a very judgmental voice, "When will I ever use this in the real world!?" The professor would patiently give her real-world examples but to no avail. This lady was convinced she was never going to need math her entire life.
You know where and when you will use math? Everywhere. All the time. More on that in a minute.
After ridding myself of this ridiculous idea that I couldn't do it, I became an honor student in the subject. Yes, I had to study and do my homework, but that is what you do with any subject. I fell in love with how each class built upon the other, and had nothing but perfect grades all the way up through advanced calculus. This ability opened the door for my love of chemistry and physics. I was even a math and chemistry tutor in college.
I went on to grad school and studied in the Department of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics, and Epidemiology. My first job after college was a statistician. I then moved up through the data analyst field until launching my own digital marketing agency in 2014. Now I receive calls from brands and other agencies to help them with their analytics. I learned how to turn all of that data into actionable insights that inform strategy.
I wish I could go back and talk to the "when-will-I-ever-use-this" lady from college. I've made a great career on the fact that there are so many in the world who still think they can't "do math" -- both men and women. There is an abundance of research now that disproves that old notion that girls/women have some genetic predisposition not to understand math.
How do you recognize if your daughter (or son) has a tendency towards math or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in general? I'm not necessarily an expert, but here are the things I remember from my childhood that I later learned are likely signs of a STEM inclination:
1. Takes apart toys to see how they work and sometimes put them back together, perhaps with some changes.
2. Reads everything possible from the family encyclopedias (no Internet at that time -- now this would be consuming as much information on several academic subjects).
3. Collects plants, rocks, insects, and other things from nature in order to learn more about them.
4. Wishes parents would buy a chemistry set, microscope, and telescope.
5. Obsessed with the universe and the space program.
Fortunately, I found my way to STEM and enjoy my work every day. Even though I am a digital marketer, I program and "do math" on a daily basis. In fact, my favorite office time is spent buried in a spreadsheet or Python program while I've got some music on.
Oh, and for the record... I'm left-handed and an avid surfer.
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