Girl mathletes run the numbers

In November, Need to Know attended the only national all-girls high school competition for math. The 2010 Math Prize for Girls (sponsored by the Advantage Testing Foundation) was held at New York University in New York City; this year’s competition will be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

The annual contest aims to call attention to what organizers call the “staggering” gender gap that exists in competitive levels of mathematics.

“Let [the girls] have their own day,” says contest director, Ravi Boppana. His goal is to see an equal number of girls and boys excited about mathematics.

While opportunities for women in math and science have dramatically grown in the last century, women contestants at co-ed math competitions remain a minority. For every girl competing in math contests there are at least three boys. This ratio is mirrored in the professional sector where less than a third of all people employed in the sciences are women.

“If 50 percent of the population is not moving into the math and hard sciences, we’re losing a lot of our brilliant minds. Maybe we lost the girl who would have started Google before Google started,” said Boppana.

Boppana is providing a platform for the top performing girls to be seen and recognized. To qualify for the Math Prize for Girls, girls must be top scorers in the American Mathematics Competition exams, a series of prestigious co-ed exams offered nationally every year in February for high school-level math students.

A series of studies published in the American Psychological Association suggests that cultural and discrimination factors trump biological explanations for why fewer women are entering the hard sciences.

The United States Department of Education put out a guide for teachers to encourage girls in math and science based on an analysis of existing data, but authors say a debate on the best practices must continue.

 

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