April 5, 2024

Inspiring Confidence: Strategies for Boosting Girls’ Maths Skills

children writing on blackboard with attentive teacher watching

With International Women’s Day earlier this month and the 2024 theme of ‘inspiring inclusion’, it highlights the importance of mathematics education for girls in schools. Research by Teach First found that 54%  of girls lacked confidence in maths, compared with 41% of boys. The findings from the education charity came from a YouGov poll of 1,000 young people aged 11 to 16.  With more than half of British girls lacking confidence in learning maths, what can be done in schools to encourage girls to be more confident in their maths abilities?

It may seem odd to focus on girls, as both genders can struggle with all subjects, including Maths and English. Studies have long revealed that boys struggle more with English than girls with mathematics. In 2016, an article by the BBC cited a study (Glasgow University), that found girls were ‘more afraid’ of maths in 80% of countries. Educators and schools can encourage girls to be more confident in maths. And the tips below can and do apply to girls and boys alike.

The Starting Gate

In the early years of school, studies have shown that achievement in maths will determine how much interest and confidence a child will have. It is a good predictor of how good they’ll be at maths later on. At any stage, tutoring can help learners struggling with the subject.

Mathematical development involves acquiring skills, understanding concepts, and gaining factual knowledge across different topic areas. Educators need to get girls interested in maths before choosing their GCSEs, and younger students should encounter various challenging maths problems. Classrooms are full of learners with varied tastes in maths and it’s difficult to predict which concepts will engage pupils’ curiosities. 

Make Maths Fun 

Many learners have built up a fear or a phobia of maths because of an earlier maths lesson where they did not understand a concept. Make Maths fun for learners, and they will want to learn more. In the 1970s and 1980s, Johnny Ball was the maths teacher we all wished we had. Sharing intriguing mathematical facts or performing maths magic tricks captures learners’ attention and curiosity and makes mathematical concepts more memorable. By playing around with numbers, pupils’ maths confidence will grow, and as it does so, they will find the subject more enjoyable. Maths bingo and maths-related games can enable learners to practice their maths skills while having fun.

Fun Elements to Consider: 

  • A good maths game for early years learning or Sudoku for older learners. This, in turn, will make them want to play more maths games or complete puzzles and learn even more.  These options provide a different way of learning and can be used as a reward for completing tasks or as a fun way to start a lesson.
  • Collaborating in groups can bring joy back to maths for learners. They can exchange ideas and tackle problems together. Educators can assign group tasks or activities that need pupils to collaborate, aiding their teamwork and communication skills. Girls often respond less favourably to intense competition. Design collaborative challenges and assign clear and changing group roles. Focus on teamwork rather than speed, and reward good teamwork. Project-based learning approaches encourage learners to “apply knowledge learned to transferable domains” (Booker & Hoon Lim, 2018).
  • Maths might feel distant and irrelevant to learners if they can’t see its connection to daily life. Teachers can bridge this gap by using real-life examples, such as dividing pizza or cake to teach fractions. Maths is all around us in our daily lives. Whether it’s shopping, cooking, paying bills or buying something with a discount, it involves maths. This approach highlights maths’s relevance as an essential tool in everyday life.
  • Different ways to learn times tables. Learning times tables are crucial for building mathematical confidence because they’re the foundation of many other areas of maths. Times tables can be learned through music, videos, or games. This can also help SEN learners who may find maths difficult due to dyslexia or dyscalculia
  • Technology. Nowadays, there are more educational apps and virtual tools available. Interactive resources make abstract concepts more concrete. Think about different learning styles. Use visual aids, such as diagrams and graphs, to enhance understanding and engagement. 

Encourage Mistakes and Embrace Errors 

When we make mistakes, we learn from them. By making mistakes we open our minds and find different problem-solving solutions. If learners are too afraid to make mistakes, they put up a barrier to learning. Embrace errors and ensure pupils feel they are in a safe space to make mistakes. Pupils need to believe in themselves and that if they don’t get it right the first time, they’ve failed.  

Encourage critical thinking, as it is an effective way to find maths solutions. Encourage learners to write down the process so you can see how they achieved the answer. That way, even if the final answer is wrong, marks can still be awarded for demonstrating the critical thinking process. By creating a safe environment where mistakes are valued, girls (and boys) will feel more comfortable exploring mathematical concepts.

Outside tutoring sessions, pupils are often afraid to ask questions, especially in front of their peers. Creating a safe environment will encourage pupils to ask questions. 

Mind Over Matter

Many girls have been told that they’re no good at the subject, and because of this, they believe it’s true. Discourage the idea of a “maths brain.” Many pupils, including girls, believe they lack natural maths ability. Having high expectations is crucial for the self-confidence of your learners. Let them know that you have confidence in their ability. Tell your learners that they are good to boost their confidence. Praise attributes like curiosity, tenacity, and hard work instead of implying natural ability. 

To improve any skill, encourage learners to practise. Even if it’s only for five minutes daily, to begin with, and then increase it to ten minutes a day and so on. The more they practise, the better they’ll become. Educators should also encourage learners, especially girls, that their maths abilities will grow over time. By showing pupils they can improve, teachers help them build confidence to face difficulties and setbacks.

Showcase Successful Women In STEM

Despite lower confidence levels, girls often outperform boys in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects at GCSE, with a higher percentage achieving top grades. Yet, fewer girls take these subjects at A-level and go on into STEM careers. 

Share stories of accomplished women and role models in mathematics and related fields. From Ada Lovelace to Maryam Mirzakhani  Highlight their achievements and career paths. Representation matters, and knowing that women have excelled in STEM can inspire girls to go on to study mathematics at A-Level, university, and beyond. Empowering girls in maths is essential for a diverse and skilled workforce

The mind is the most powerful learning tool, and when we give learners positive messages, results are likely to improve. Remember, creating a positive and inclusive maths classroom benefits all learners, regardless of gender. 

About Fleet Education Services For Tutoring 

Fleet Education Services is the UK’s largest specialist tuition provider. As a DfE-accredited National Tutoring Programme (NTP) Tuition Partner, we will tailor the right solution to your school’s needs in small groups or one-to-one sessions. We help over a third of local authorities and 700 schools.

Find out how you can help your maths learners today.

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