The Math Myth

Lecia Barker doesn't buy the pervasive argument that girls learn math and science differently than boys do, and that the difference ultimately turns off girls to these types of careers. In fact, today girls are outpacing boys in both subjects. "About half of math majors are girls, and two-thirds of biology majors are girls," says Barker, research associate professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin.

So, why don't more girls pursue careers in computer science, which typically flow from interest in math and science?

"Computer science courses are almost always optional and almost always populated by a majority of boys," Barker says. "Research shows that girls don't want to be path-breakers -- to go into that classroom where there's only one girl and 18 boys."

But positive reinforcement from teachers and parents goes a long way in reshaping girls' opinions of computer science careers.

"We believe it requires actively recruiting. Anytime a teacher says, 'You're good at this. You ought to try it,' it plants a seed in the student's mind. It's an authority person, a smart person, having faith in their ability."

Teachers and parents must also tie in computer science with real-world applications and other areas of interest and meaning for girls, says Barker. "If you assume it's the girls who aren't interested in computer science, you're trying to solve the wrong problem."

This story, "The Math Myth" was originally published by Computerworld.

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