Category Archives: Women in Math

Tomorrow is Ada Lovelace Day

377px-Ada_LovelaceAda Lovelace is a international celebration aiming to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire

Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, an early mechanical computer. She wrote what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine, and, is often described as the world’s first computer programmer.

There are Ada Lovelace Day events worldwide. Check here to see if there is an event in your area.

To learn more about Ada Lovelace, read about her here.

Women in Math: Recent Research

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image source: IGNACIOLEO

There have been several studies in the literature in the past few weeks about women in math.

I recently posted about the BYU study that found that while boys tend to do better in the first round of math competitions, girls do just as well or better than the boys in subsequent rounds. But there are a few other studies worth mentioning.

IU study: Feelings of power can diffuse effects of negative stereotypes: In this study, researchers used several tools to make women feel high, low, or neutral in power, and then gave these groups a math exam with instructions that either did or did not reinforce the stereotype that women are not good at math. They found that those who felt high in power performed better in math than those in both the low power and control group, despite stereotype reinforcing instructions.

Could Playing ‘Boys’ Games Help Girls in Science and Math? In this review of 12 studies, researchers found that in general men do better at spatial tasks than women. However, there was more variation found within each gender than between genders. Spatial ability seemed to be more associated with gender-identification than with biological gender. The authors suggest that, because spatial ability is refined through play and recreational activities, girls could improve spatial abilities through participating in activities that are stereotypically considered masculine.

More Career Options May Explain Why Fewer Women Pursue Jobs in Math and Science: In this study, researchers examined test scores and conducted surveys with 1,490 college-bound US students. The students were surveyed in 12th grade and again at 33 years old. The researchers found that among students with high math abilities, those who also had high verbal abilities, a group that contained more women than men, were less likely to have chosen a career in math and science than those with moderate verbal abilities. The authors suggest that having both high math and verbal abilities means having more career options, and that this may partly explain why fewer women enter these fields. “Because they’re good at both, they can consider a wide range of occupations.”

Girls Want a Rematch

Researchers at BYU found that while boys tend to do better in the first round of math competitions, girls do just as well or better than the boys in subsequent rounds. Maybe girls just need a little more time to get warmed up and comfortable. Most school math competitions consist of one round, but this study was based on the results at 24 elementary schools that changed the format of their math competitions to 5 rounds.

Read more at ScienceDaily: Gender Gap Disappears in School Math Competitions

Hypatia of Alexandria

6a00d8341c73fe53ef017ee60a577e970d-800wiHypatia (pronounced hi-pay-shuh) of Alexandria, is the first well-documented woman in mathematics.  Pythagorus, Plato, and Socrates are all known to have invited women into their schools, but little is known of these women.  While, details of Hypatia’s life are scant, there is at least some evidence of her work in the fields of mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy.

Hypatia was born sometime around 350-370 AD, the daughter of mathematician Theon of Alexandria. She was educated in Athens, and around 400 AD, she became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in Roman Egypt.  Hypatia was a popular lecturer and was known as a great problem-solver.  Mathematicians stuck on problems would write to her for advice. Letters from one of her most distinguished students, Synesius, is one of the few remaining sources of her work.

Another source of information about Hypatia is the writings of Socrates Scholasticus. In his Ecclesiastical History he writes:

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.

Hypatia was killed when she became involved in a feud between two prominent figures in Alexandria: the governor Orestes and the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. Her role as friend and advisor of Orestes angered supporters of Cyril, and in 415 AD, she was murdered by an angry mob of religious fanatics in the streets of Alexandria.

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Rachel Weisz portrayed Hypatia in the 2009 film, Agora.

Sources:

Hypatia.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Mar. 2013<http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Gray, Shirley B.. “Hypatia.” Mathematics. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Mar. 2013<http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Hypatia.” Wikipedia.org. 25 Mar. 2013 <http://www.wikipedia.org>.

Hypatia of Alexandria (?370 -415).” She is An Astronomer. 25 Mar. 2013 <http://www.sheisanastronomer.org>.

February 21st is Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is devoted to teaching girls about the field of engineering, a field traditionally dominated by men. This event aims to address one of the causes of this gender disparity, a lack of familiarity with the field.

For more information, resources, and hands-on activities for K-12 kids, go the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day webpage.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, 2013, is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Sally Ride.  Dr. Ride was America‘s first woman in space and founder of Sally Ride Science, a company devoted to promoting K-12 science education.

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