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GIRL + MATH = POWER!

November 25, 2013 | posted in: Media Creators, STEM | comment

posted by: Jennifer Oxley

“You are the Hero of your own story” - Joseph Campbell

I’m an artist, I’m a girl...and I think math is cool! 

Recently I cocreated a math show for PBS KIDS with writer Billy Aronson called PEG + CAT, with the premise that “math is everywhere.” PEG + CAT, which is produced by The Fred Rogers Company, aims to demonstrate that math is more than just equations and numbers, and it’s not just for folks born with exceptional math skills.

There’s math in cooking, math when you clean your room, there’s math in music, and even math in art. But often people think it’s cool, and okay, NOT to be able to do math. Especially girls.

The fact is, research shows that children express the stereotype that “math is for boys, not for girls” as early as second grade, and girls are less likely than boys to pursue math in higher education or careers.

Some research has found that boys might have a leg up in math because of their more impulsive nature. Girls often favor a slow and accurate strategy, which makes them less likely to call out an answer if they aren’t totally confident about it. In the short term girls win with more correct answers, but over time boys excel because their trial-and-error approach leads to further discovery and mastery.

In the same study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, David Geary advises that “parents can give their children an advantage by making them comfortable with numbers and basic math before they start grade school, so that the children will have fewer trepidations about calling out answers”.

Agreed, but it seems to me that this stereotype about math and girls is deeply rooted in our society, and if you look closely, the signs are everywhere.

Recently The Children’s Place made a t-shirt for girls that listed all the subjects a girl can be good at: “shopping, music, and dancing”. But math was left unchecked with the message underneath: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

And when you search for Halloween costumes in the career category at Party City, the top choices for girls are “Celebrity Starlet,” “Gothic Cheerleader,” and “Cupcake Cutie.” In contrast, the top picks for boys are “Astronaut,” “Navy Admiral,” and “Fireman.”

What’s striking to me is that all the boy costumes are real careers that one can aspire to. Careers where strong math skills come in very handy.

Okay, can somebody please tell me what a “Cupcake Cutie” is!?!

These are two small and seemingly harmless examples, but maybe the sum total adds to the math gender gap in this country.

I think this call to action posted by Rebecca Stanton on Facebook in response to The Children’s Place t-shirt says it all:

“Stop making it fashionable for girls to be dumb.”

Our show, PEG + CAT, features a strong female character, who’s anything but dumb, and she’s good at math!

In every show Peg and her sidekick Cat are thrust in the middle of a wacky word problem that has to be solved right away. And only by using math can they tame the chaos.

Solving the problem always involves: brainstorming, singing songs, writing things down, tripping on stuff, and trying different approaches.

Our goal is to expose preschool kids to as much math as possible, and show that it’s not just for some people. Anyone can do it!

We want to empower kids, and encourage them not to be afraid to make mistakes, or to call out answers in class. We want every child to know that if you keep trying, you can solve any problem, and have more POWER over your world!

Peg can be anything she imagines, from a brave knight to a brilliant space explorer. This is the type of freedom and aspiration that I wish for girls, boys...for everybody really!

And if you ask me, math IS cool and very much in fashion.

Jennifer Oxley's avatar

Jennifer Oxley

Jennifer Oxley made her first film at the age of seven and has continued her career with directing and artistic credits in children’s television. Jennifer is the recipient of an Emmy Award for her role as director on Little Bill, created the look and animation style of The Wonder Pets, and most recently teamed up with Billy Aronson and The Fred Rogers Company to produce the animated math series PEG + CAT for PBS KIDS.

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