Have you heard the phrase that confidence is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets? So why are our girls losing confidence in their math abilities as they move through school years and is there anything we can do to help them believe in their math gifts and help them love math?
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An Unexpected Revelation
This day started as usual. I was sitting at my desk, sipping my coffee and perfecting my spreadsheet with budget categories for my project at work. My 9 year old was getting ready for school. She climbed on my lap as she still likes to do occasionally, looked for a moment at the graphs on my monitor and then said, You know, M is better at math than I am. He knows calculus already.
I almost spit my coffee all over my keyboard. My first reaction was to argue with facts. I was helping during math time in her classroom for several years, and this year I have one hour of Math Olympiad pullout with fourth grade students who are gifted or high achieving in math. Both Smarty and her best friend M are part of this group, and I know objectively that Smarty is more advanced in math. But... I checked this immediate response. Why?
Let's Stop Comparison Game!
I could have provided all the supporting evidence to my daughter "proving" to her that she is better at math than M. But... I would have just poured more oil onto her competitive desire to compare herself with others. For better or for worse, our school system is built on competition and comparison. Not only kids get grades that "sort" them into "buckets", they also show off to each other and boys are often better talkers when it comes to this kind of "show off" contests in math. For example, M loves to read math non-fiction books, such as How to Be a Math Genius? and then weaves math terms into conversations trying (successfully, I might say) to impress Smarty and other classmates. So I decided to take a very different response to her statement.
Focus on Personal Journey in Math
What I told my daughter is that it really does not matter whether M is better at math or she is. There is always going to be someone somewhere who is better, but it's not the point. What matters is that she is better today than she was yesterday, and that tomorrow she can be even better. I reminded her of a quote from one of her favorite book characters, Professor Dumbledore, It's not our abilities that define who we are, it's our choices. And I commented that her current choices would lead her to true understanding of calculus and other complex math concepts when she has a firm foundation to master them. I do not make her practice math nowadays, since she willingly spends 20-30 minutes a day on her favorite math sites. She has a formidable aptitude for math, and I want to hope that her personal journey in math will be long, joyful, and rewarding.
More Joyful Math for Kids?
From my blog:
- 100 Ways to Make Math Fun at Home
- Hands-On Geometry
- Beyond Common Core: Math for Gifted Learners
- Online Math for Gifted Learners
Did you experience this loss of faith as you went through your school years? If you were able to regain it or keep your faith, what strategies worked for you?
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