Why Gender Matters in Teaching Children

Why Gender Matters in Teaching Children


One of the key differences between boys and girls has everything to do with entrepreneurial learning.

Girls tend to understand math better when math problems are cast in real-world contexts. Leonard Sax, a psychologist and family physician, and the author of the books Boys AdriftGirls on the Edge, and Why Gender Matters, describes a robust phenomenon that he has observed in 300 schools over the course of 11 years in seven countries including the United States, Australia, England and Mexico. Bear in mind that Sax is speaking of typical boys and girls, not every boy and girl. Given that caveat, Sax has seen that real-world examples, hands-on experiences, and entrepreneurial thinking can ignite girls’ interest in math precisely because they are real, relevant, and even positive for girls’ lives, their world, and for our planet.

For example, Sax says, if you are teaching equations in multiple variables, the typical seventh-grade boy will do better if you begin by asking, “If x + 2y = 60, and 2x + y = 90, how do we solve for x and y?” It’s abstract, and boys tend to be comfortable with such abstractions.

Girls prefer real-world examples. For example, a typical seventh-grade girl will be more engaged if you begin by asking, “If a sweater and two blouses cost $60, and two sweaters and a blouse cost $90, how much does each blouse and each sweater cost?” “[M]any girls are more engaged if you begin with the word problem and then work your way back to the equation,” Sax writes.

Entrepreneurial learning is project-based and engaging. As neuroscience reveals more each year about the working of the brain, it’s thrilling to discover that learning is multifaceted and multivalent: there is no single best way to learn—for either gender—so we must pay attention, mindful that different parts of the brain kick in at different times and through different stimuli. Entrepreneurial learning helps tease out these differences. We can readily see what’s connecting with girls and, armed with that knowledge, moving forward we can develop new and meaningful ways to make math, technology and science come alive for them.

And entrepreneurial learning allows all kinds of learners to go where their ideas take them.

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your comments.

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