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Math and Creativity: Do Girls Enjoy Studying More?

Math teacher Carmel Schettino has been researching gender equity and its role in math education for her Ph.D from SUNY Albany (State University of New York) since 2004. In the past five years, she has been involved in a handful of gender equity projects, including one that was funded by a federal grant from the Women’s Education Equality Act.

Ms. Schettino specializes in gender equity in academic environments.
She has taught at an all-girls school and another co-ed school and has found that, in a same-sex environment, girls’ attitudes toward math and education are different than in a co-ed environment.

“While there are some girls that thrive in a co-ed environment, research shows that in an all-girls environment, there’s more freedom to be open about learning,” Ms. Schettino said.

As a part of her dissertation, Ms. Schettino conducted research on “the attitudes of adolescent girls towards learning mathematics in ‘problem-based learning,’” she said. While she also studied how girls react to other school subjects, her specialty and interest is in mathematics.

“In every discipline there is a part that is skill-based,” she said. “But in each of those disciplines there’s also this creative part.”

She believes if math were taught with equal amounts of skill-based learning and creative problem-solving, girls would enjoy and study it more.

Nina Sola ’13 was given the opportunity to work with Ms. Schettino on a research project last winter when she took a math exemption. The study was based on work done by feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan and explored the effectiveness of the Harkness method in a math class. Students were given a set of problems without previous instruction and told to solve through discussion with their classmates. This was designed to combine the analytical and creative side of problem solving.

At Deerfield, Ms. Schettino said she has found girls are just as interested in learning as boys in her classes. She has also noticed that more girls are taking high-level math courses than before. Ms. Schettino hopes this interest influences more girls to participate in the math club, which she heads.

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