MK visits School 21 wearing her three hats: as mathematician, as musician, and as Women-in-Maths activist.
Chapter 1: Women in Maths
According to FMSP, in the UK:
- 50% of GCSE students are female
- 38% of A level students are female
- 28% of A level Further Maths students are female
- 19% of Research Mathematicians are female
- 6% of Maths Professors are female
Can you name a female mathematician? The students couldn’t (but then, they didn’t know many male mathematicians either…) MK reeled off a bunch, including Maryam Mirzakhani, the first female winner of the Fields Medal. Gasps of shock when students learnt that this took place only last year.
Good turnout of Yr11 and Yr12 students, and equal gender split – this is everybody’s problem.
We learnt about the following concepts:
- Implicit bias (both men and women can subconsciously undervalue women’s contributions in Mathematics). To check your implicit bias, visit the Harvard Implicit Bias project
- Gendered language in teacher reviews and letters of recommendation
- Stereotype threat – the risk of confirming negative stereotypes about an individual’s racial, ethnic, gender, or cultural group.
- Attributional ambiguity – “not knowing where negative responses come from. Is it because my work is not good enough, or because the teacher is prejudiced? Two groups of black students handed in work. Group A had their photos attached to their work. Group B did not. Group B responded more to feedback than Group A, since they knew that the feedback was not related to their race.
Often these biases and effects are subconscious. We therefore need to talk about them, to realise what we need to change about our beliefs.
Chapter 2: Maths and Logic
When Tom came in a few weeks ago, we noticed that the students were tying themselves up in knots about logical arguments. MK taught a session on logic – short lecture followed by problems. She has been honing these sessions back at UChicago, to consciously teach undergraduates the core mathematical skills that they would otherwise be expected to learn by osmosis.
- MK impressed with how well the students work well together. The adults in the room, when given a difficult problem, instinctively go into a nest and thrash out the details independently. The students instinctively work together through talk. Maybe we should now start to also focus on how to go it alone? But, given that most students will have experienced Maths as a solitary sport in their previous schools, it is definitely correct to go strong on collaboration initially
- Mark noticed that each of the three groups was using a different method (venn diagram, chains of arrows, big tables). When is it okay to let many methods flourish, and when should you just teach one killer method?
- Students really loved the logic problems – satisfying quick wins in comparison to STEP problems. We did some written by Lewis Carrol. More here
Babies are illogical. Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile. Illogical persons are despised.
What do you do when you get stuck? MK says:
- Draw a picture! I drew the same picture, in different ways, over and over for about a year. I will never forget the picture.
- Stop. Deliberately forget everything you know and do it again, trying to come from a fresh angle.
What is the longest you have spent on a problem? MK thought this question made no sense – you start with a big problem and break it into sub-parts. Solve the sub-parts, except one which is tricky, which needs to be broken down into further sections… Continue constantly. So it all depends on scale.
Chapter 3: O Magnum Mysterium
The Yr10 students are singing Lauridsen, with something ridiculous like 8 parts. It is a great challenge, given that the majority of them cannot read sheet music and are therefore learning by ear. MK came and sang with the sopranos. Great to break into the private-school world of classical music.