I HATE Math Part 2…The “X” Chromosome

Last time we talked nurture, and now it’s time to talk nature. In my last blog, I referenced that one of the reasons students ‘hate math’ has to do with a lack of conceptual understanding; not just any lack of understanding, but one that is attributed to where math is processed in the brain.  Males and females process math in very different parts of the brain, and this biological component can have an enormous impact on comprehension.  Perhaps this is better stated, “All brains are NOT created equal…at least when it comes to math.”

In girls, math is processed in the cerebral cortex of the brain.  This part of the brain is responsible for: language, verbal functioning, perceptual awareness, memory, etc. Boys process math in the hippocampus of the brain; the hippocampus is responsible for short & long term memory and spatial navigation.  This information should be fascinating to you!  Why?  Well, because it can give you hints on how best to teach math to your son or daughter. Knowing where math is learned (processed) in the brain can give you a better idea of how to teach math.  Here are some of the successful teaching techniques that I use when I am instructing girls in math.

Teaching Girls:

  1. Because math is processed in the same part of the brain that is responsible for language and verbal functioning, girls learn math best in CONTEXT. Context means using real-life examples and background information to illustrate math.  If you are teaching your daughter about percent discount problems, put it in the context of shopping at her favorite store where she finds a super cute sale item for 15% off.  With her limited amount of available cash, can she afford to purchase this new item?
  2. Use STORY PROBLEMS (word problems) to teach math to young girls.  Many workbooks aimed at students in Grades 1-4 use story problems to teach math.  Story problems often incorporate multiple step computations and tend to refine and develop critical thinking skills.
  3. Girls often place a high value on pleasing others, and they tend to believe that effort, behavior, and knowledge will predict an outcome or grade.  Girls feel more comfortable in the gray area of learning because that leaves room for subjectivity, effort, and progress.  This mentality doesn’t bode as well with math because math is a very black and white subject. As a result, girls tend to lose confidence in “objective” subjects (namely math & science).
    1. The solution—make an effort to build up your daughter’s math confidence.   When she gets problems correct, scores well on a test, or figures out a difficult math problem, use strong words of affirmation to build up her confidence tank.  When she makes mistakes in math, give her feedback and explain WHY she made the mistakes.  Verbal feedback is a girl’s friend.  The more explanation she receives as to why a problem is incorrect, the less she will internalize the mistake, and the less intimated she will feel towards math.
  4. When searching for a tutor for you daughter, try and find a great FEMALE math tutor.  Smart math women tend to teach math utilizing the cerebral cortex, and can relate to the processing procedures of a girl.

I hate to separate learning math, or learning anything, into X and Y chromosomes, but the reality is that a biological difference exists. This difference doesn’t mean that either sex is any less or more capable of learning a subject or succeeding in a particular area. It simply means different learning styles call for different teaching methods.  This begs the question, are students better off at a single sexed school?  Can a single sexed school provide a more appropriately focused learning environment for a particular gender?  Hmmm…food for thought.  But, this question is for another blog—in the mean time, stay tuned for an upcoming blog that shares the best tips on teaching math to boys and how best to handle their careless errors and over inflated math egos!

- By Kelly Trotter King


Share this Post


2 Commentsclick here to leave a comment

  • Melissa

    Kelly – Great post. It’s really interesting and informative. I don’t have girls, but I look forward to reading your tips about boys. Keep up these postings!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>