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Girls: Present and future math rock stars

DreamBox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson recently visited her high school alma mater, Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, and was delighted to find second-grade girls using DreamBox to learn math—and loving it. “At DreamBox,” says Woolley-Wilson, “we want to help bring out every child’s ‘inner rock star.’ Encouraging girls to explore future math and science related careers should begin early. One of the best ways to do that is by making math delightful and fun from the start.”

Woolley-Wilson could never have imagined that students would be using math software from the company she now leads at the school she attended as a girl. But she’s very glad they are. The “I love DreamBox and math” messages sent to Woolley-Wilson clearly show that young female math students at Ursuline Academy are glad, too, and are immersed in DreamBox’s game-like math lessons.

As the female CEO of a learning technology company, one of her concerns is supporting girls to become high-achieving “mathletes” who can take their place in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs. “Right now, too few girls are entering STEM-related fields,” Woolley-Wilson comments, “and we believe that the solid foundation we’re providing for girls in elementary math help change current statistics.”

In a recent report on women in STEM, despite the fact that women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This is an unfortunate statistic, because women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs. Another good reason to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers is that despite current unemployment numbers, between now and 2017 there will be an estimated 1.4 million computer jobs. If current trends continue, the nation won’t have enough skilled graduates to fill even 30 percent of those jobs. One way to change that is to encourage and support girls in the early grades, and keep on supporting them throughout their school careers.

Societal pressure and stigma around math excellence for girls

Despite some continued gender stereotyping, like these t-shirts that were pulled from store shelves in August 2013, the idea that girls “can’t do math” is a fallacy. A worldwide 2010 study showed that in fact, girls have equal abilities, but the difference is that boys are more confident.

Building confidence is the answer

Efforts to make math “cool” for girls and women in the U.S. are taking hold. For example, the annual Math Prize for Girls, sponsored by MIT, offers $49,000 in cash prizes and a chance to be a public rock star in math. The goal of the contest is designed to encourage girls to stick with math and enter STEM fields.

Woolley-Wilson is one of many education and business leaders who say the way to close the science gap is to build self-confidence early in school. But because the “girls aren’t good at math” stigma stubbornly persists, she says females are more likely to be discouraged when they struggle.

“If the class moves on and you’re still grappling with something, it can make you feel less self-assured,” says Woolley-Wilson. “That’s where DreamBox comes in. One of the great benefits of what we’re doing with technology is to help make sure students—both boys and girls—gain the confidence they need to persevere and succeed in school and careers.”

Tags: girls and math, gender disparity in math, women and STEM

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