Asking questions. Making choices.

I have had the opportunity to work this year with the wonderful staff at Laura Jeffrey Academy, a girl-focused charter school in Saint Paul, MN.

I’m still undecided on the larger questions surrounding charter schools and their relationships to public schools and public K-12 funding, so I am in no way interested in picking up that thread of discussion here.

Instead, I want to reflect on my experiences in this setting-an urban, girl-focused, open-admission middle school.

This week, I spent my first full day at the school with school in session. I had worked with the math teachers over the summer, but students are really an abstraction when we’re talking about teaching in the summertime.

As I observed a couple of classes in the morning, I was reminded of some age-old questions in mathematics teaching and learning. In particular…

Do girls like math?

This question (and its bastardized forms, Are girls allergic to algebra? Are girls too sexy for math? etc.) almost seems worth debating in the real mixed-gender world.

But spend a few hours in a Laura Jeffrey math class and it becomes obvious that these are ridiculous questions not worth wasting time with.

When you get rid of the boys, you still have just as much variation in attitudes, interests, predispositions, etc. with respect to math (and pretty much everything else) that you would in your standard mixed-gender classroom.

Of course, right?

But it is so easy to put students into categories and make blanket claims about all students in each category. Get rid of one of the two categories, though? Now we realize what a crappy way this was to categorize kids in the first place-especially if we’re trying to understand their interests, motivations and goals.

Thanks Laura Jeffrey staff and students for the reality check.

It was a pleasure and I look forward to our future work together.

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2 responses to “Asking questions. Making choices.

  1. Andy Martinson

    Interesting. I haven’t heard a thing about this Charter yet, but intriguing for sure. I’m out in WBL teaching at the 9-10 building and I would say of my two sections of 9th grade Honors Algebra 2, my strongest students are majority female (not scientific here folks, just going on gut). However, I don’t know if they feel that they are strong all the time.

    I had some amazing conversations with parents of a few of these girls this year. A few of my most talented girls are super intense and often think (or say) that they are complete failures. I’m not sure what’s going on as we transition out of math being a “male dominated” field (at least I hope that’s where this is going), but I think we are in the middle of some transition that will hopefully shake itself out with girls coming out level pegging with boys. For this to happen, they need to feel confident they are level pegging.

    Maybe the all-girls environment helps that?

  2. Pingback: Help wanted: Spreading the word | Overthinking my teaching

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