Confidence and the Math Geek

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Physorg.com posts a story today about a study out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that reveals (shock!) instilling confidence in young girls improves their interest in math and science.

While interest is certainly a factor in getting older girls to study and pursue a career in these disciplines, more attention should be given to building confidence in their abilities early in their education, says UWM Distinguished Professor Nadya Fouad. She is one of the authors of a three-year study aimed at identifying supports and barriers that steer girls toward or away from science and math during their education.

"The relationship between confidence and interest is close," says Fouad. "If they feel they can do it, it feeds their interest."

That last quote perhaps comes as no surprise to those geekdads with daughters who fancy themselves math geeks. But the study bolsters earlier research by the National Science Foundation and National Research Council that has found declining numbers of women in math-related careers (e.g., technology, engineering, and the sciences) and offers clues on overcoming the gender stereotypes that still persist.

Encouraging my almost 10-year-old fifth grader in math has never really been a problem, luckily. It’s her thing and she has always shown an interest in "problem solving" with a natural lean toward the subject. She has also always been a very confident kid and doggedly knows her own mind (as her mom points to us, "apple, tree"). Nevertheless, as the UWM study suggests, it is these early years when the foundation of that confidence develops. My daughter has certainly hit snags in her math as it’s gotten more difficult, shaking her confidence along the way. That balance will likely get more tricky as she hits the teen years, but hopefully she will also develop the will and stubbornness to not let it derail her efforts. (And woe to me if she does…)

The study seems to throw a light on some important issues and backs up a lot of assumptions with some scholarship. One takeaway from the study notes that parent support and expectations played an important role in math/science interest for both genders in middle and high school. Yes, in the end, it is up to us as parents to give our kids the skills to cope with the work they face in school and beyond.

Even if your own girl has no confidence issues, the study reinforces what we as parents already know: that kids who are secure in themselves do better in any subject or pursuit, be it math, art, music, language, sports, or whatever. Anyone else but me notice that link personally with their own kids?

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