My guest post at Compass Learning has been reposted on the Getting Smart blog.
There’s been a lot of great discussion on Annie Murphy Paul’s blog about gender differences in beliefs about abilities and performance related to science and technology.
When women believe that they will have to work hard on a task related to technology or that it will be difficult, they tend to be less motivated and perform worse.
I think the take-away message from the findings about girls and women using technology is that parents and teachers need to emphasize to girls that proficiency in technology-related fields is not innate. It’s a function of persistence, effort, and motivation.
I could use frequent reminders of this as well. When I decided to start this blog, I was first going to launch a self-hosted Word Press site, which is considerably more difficult and complicated than a hosted one for a complete beginner, but after a few days of trying to figure it out, using books and websites, I simply gave up. I told myself again and again that I would not be adept at doing something as technologically involved as hosting my own site, despite the fact that I now own books to walk me through every step. I panicked and decided I wanted nothing to do with learning technology.
I know rationally that I will never learn anything new, as Annie Murphy Paul, points out, without determination and hard work. But something about technology, software, and computer screens makes me anxious. Is this because I’m female?
How do we motivate our daughters and female students to be more motivated to learn technology and to pursue math and science careers?
My initial response to your first query was “Of course it’s not because you’re female!” My reasoning was just a visceral reaction, because personally I like to learn new software and “computer tricks”. It’s something which I receive positive reinforcement for; most people (male & female) who I know aren’t as adept at learning new technology as I am (although, I’m going to quantify that thought with the quantifier “Entry Level” technology. By far I’m not going to be writing code anytime in the foreseeable future..)
After my initial reaction, I started realizing that there IS a gender neutralizer, and it lives inside most of our little female heads. While I don’t trust my husband to preform well with new software, I will ask him to do the MOST basic math for me just so I don’t have to. I’ve accepted the idea that he’s innately *better* at it than me. I bought into the idea that I wasn’t “good” at math before I graduated high school… Although it wasn’t always that way. When I think about it, I was in basic Algebra by 7th grade, Geometry when I was a Freshman… I was on track to jump into higher mathematics with no problems. But I hit a bump in the road (the Geometry teacher didn’t like my incessant high school chatter so I was dropped from the class) and I just easily decided I didn’t LIKE math. Then, two years later I had already come to believe I wasn’t GOOD at math. Now, seventeen years later I just assume my husband is better at math (and by default I believe I’m NOT good at math) and accept it as the Truth.
I see this in my 2nd grade daughter too, who is in the top percentile of her class in reading and mathematics – but yet she tells me (and more importantly, she’s telling HERSELF) that she’s “no good” at math. Even though her MATH test scores show her work to be above average & above grade level. Even though she routinely does her math work at 90% correct and above. The reason she doubts herself is that there’s a BOY in her class who does a bit better at math than her. And she’s already ready to throw in the towel.
I constantly remind her that she IS good at math (and science, and reading, etc.) – but it does seem to take weekly reminders. For now she takes my affirmations to heart, but if some day she doesn’t… well, she could convince herself not to try any more.
Is this some genetic gender throwback to letting males take charge and take care of us? When the problems are ones of logic, do we (as women/females) often throw in the towel early as a default mechanism?
I’m willing to guess there’s some truth in it. Either way I’m going to keep cheering on my daughter and reminding her how talented she really is. I hope that together we can push through the gender barrier.
School of Smock says
What a great response! I do think that the issue is, as you say, “inside of our heads.” Just like your daughter, I did really well in math as a kid. I skipped a grade, took advanced classes, but then when it came time to take calculus in high school, I had my first trouble and quickly internalized that I wasn’t actually good at math at all. I then decided to “throw in the towel” forever on math. I think that research shows that there are few — if, possibly, any at all — differences in math reasoning ability between female and males, but, like you, I’m confused about where these gender differences in outcomes and interest in the subject matter ultimately come from.
Thank you for describing your daughter’s (and your) experiences! It’s such an interesting issue for parents and teachers.
I don’t think that Girls Use Technology Differently 🙂 In another word, nowadays, we can say- girls and boys, all are using Technology and software seriously!!!