When I was about 10 years old, I threw a heavy math textbook against the wall while attempting to study for a test. My mom was patiently sitting with me trying to teach me the challenging riddles that I just couldn’t solve.
I remember the shock I felt as the weight of the heavy textbook smashed against the wall, the spine snapping, and the text slumping sadly down to the floor.
My sudden fury was a perfect representation of my feelings toward math. It just didn’t make sense to me. After struggling through university-level math in high school, I finally resigned myself to college-level in my senior years. I remember the relief that washed over me when I realized I would never have to study for another math test again. I ended up earning an 87 per cent in Grade 11 college math, one of my highest marks of the semester.
A lot has changed since I was in elementary school in the 1990s. I remember simply believing that girls struggled with math, and it was rare to find a girl that was strong in maths and sciences. In the last few years, a lot of work has been done to dismantle these incorrect ideas.
Still, women are underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in universities across Canada. According to Stats Canada, women represent about 39 per cent of students in STEM subjects across Canadian universities.
I don’t know if my aversion to math was because I really wasn’t good at it, or because I believed I couldn’t do it. But I am determined to encourage my three daughters to always believe they’re capable.
My oldest daughter, Penny, has started solving math problems in the last few months and is enjoying challenging herself. Penny’s moved beyond Kindergarten math (she’s in senior Kindergarten), and is now successfully completing first grade math problems.
We’ve purchased flashcards, download mathematics apps on our phones, and quiz her when we’re driving in the car. To her, math is fun and I am excitedly encouraging her to believe in her abilities and challenge herself.
It’s been a bit embarrassing to find myself fumbling for the right answer when my daughter is able to quickly answer simple addition. I’ve worked hard to keep my personal aversion to math to myself. I remember how I felt about 14 years ago when I finished my final test in Grade 11 and felt free from studying for another math test. I didn’t think about my own future children and that I’d be back in the math world again someday, but as a parent this time.
Now I’m learning alongside my almost six-year-old, and pretty soon she’ll be well beyond me in her abilities, and that excites me.
Math resources for girls:
Math Doesn’t Suck by Danica McKellar
Math Prizes for Girls
Queen’s Math Camp for Girls
Girls Angle: Math Club for Girls
Girls Rock Math