“Girl math” vs. “boy math”: Math teachers weigh in on the viral meme—and how to talk about it in classrooms

The evolving landscape of social media is constantly creating new trends that capture the collective imagination of social media users with a blend of humor and relatability. This has been the case with “girl math” and its counterpart “boy math” – terms that have transcended meme culture and for many, have become shorthand for gender-specific reasoning in everyday scenarios.  

Beyond the likes, shares, and occasional eye-rolls, though, what do actual math educators think about these trends? Are they just harmless fun, or can they enforce gender stereotypes that may impact young minds and their academic choices? 

Study.com turned to news reports to figure out what is the girl math and boy math phenomenon and spoke with math educators to gain their insights on this trending topic. 

Unpacking the Trend of Girl and Boy Math 

“Girl math” started as a lighthearted way for women to share the often humorous and convoluted logic behind their daily decisions, such as aligning hair-washing schedules with social events or justifying shopping sprees for free shipping.  

According to a UK-based online newspaper the Standard, the term was coined on the morning radio show “Fletch, Vaughan, and Hayley” in New Zealand but soon spread around the world thanks to TikTok.  

On the flip side, “boy math” has emerged as a playful response, encompassing its own set of stereotypes, like overestimating one’s ability to perform heroic feats or contemplating historical trivia. 

“One of my favorite things has been seeing other people’s variations of [girl math],” Hayley Sproull, who originally coined the trend, told Capsulenz.com. “There’s ‘girl measuring’ which is that classic thing where we try and measure stuff with our hands and get it wildly wrong. People are putting their own spin on it.” 

Math Educators Weigh In 

As these terms swirl through the corridors of social media, they’ve inevitably reached the ears of those who deal with actual mathematical equations daily: math teachers. We talked to a few of them to get their thoughts on this social media trend and its influence on young minds. 

Cianetta Saunders, currently a reading teacher at Indian Trails Middle School and formerly a 6th-grade math teacher in Seminole County, Florida, recognizes a positive side, noting that the trend can make math feel more relatable and accessible to students. “They spark conversation around math and get people thinking about their thought processes in a lighthearted and humorous way,” she told Study.com.  

Aaron Wertheimer, a former full-time math teacher turned marketing writer who still tutors math part-time, has mixed feelings. Initially, he was concerned that “girl math” might perpetuate stereotypes about women in STEM fields, but he soon realized that this was not necessarily the case. “Many social media posts around girl math and boy math had nothing to do with the ability of a person to be involved in mathematics professions,” he observed. 

Abi Ruiz, a mathematics and science educator and National Science Foundation fellow at the University of Central Florida, raised concerns about the oversimplification of math based on gender. “It’s like they’re painting math with a broad brush based on gender, and that can be problematic,” Ruiz remarked. She emphasized the importance of breaking down the notion that math is just for a select few and highlighted that research shows girls consistently outperform in mathematics until high school, but there’s a drop-off in STEM careers later on. 

The Role of Social Media in Shaping Perceptions 

Social media’s tendency to amplify content can often distort nuanced concepts. Saunders pointed out that the girl math and boy math conversations could lead to overgeneralization and poor perceptions of each gender. 

Wertheimer agrees: “Considering that the corpus callosum and brains of young boys and girls are still developing, if we don’t unpack the importance of having conversations about what math is, who can do it, how it can help, and why we learn it, young people will learn that math is for some people only and that some people are good at it, and that others are not.”  

Finding the Balance 

Educators face the challenge of using humor in education without reinforcing stereotypes. As an educator and millennial, Saunders is embracing meme culture and uses it to make math and reading more approachable for students. “Humor and meme culture allow teachers to meet students where they are and apply intimidating content in ways that pique their interest,” she said. 

Saunders, Ruiz, and Wertheimer share a common view on the educational opportunities presented by the girl math and boy math social media trends. Ruiz emphasizes the importance of using these trends as teaching moments in the classroom, highlighting the need for sensitivity and context. Her focus is on facilitating discussions around gender equality in STEM fields and addressing stereotypes in math education, underscoring the significance of an inclusive approach. 

Echoing this sentiment, Wertheimer also sees the value in leveraging these trends for educational purposes. He suggests using them to prompt critical thinking and discussions among students. His approach involves questioning societal norms and stereotypes about math and gender, asking, “Why do certain people think certain types of math are only available to and practiced by certain genders?” He encourages exploring the messaging around mathematics and what it reflects about societal values.  

Overall, while these trends have sparked conversation, the experts emphasize the need for careful consideration of how they’re used in educational contexts, ensuring they don’t inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes. 

This story was produced by Study.com and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

Provided by Stacker

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