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Encouraging girls to do math and the myth of the ‘math person’

September 6, 2016

Hello, my name is Vanessa! I am the founder and director of The Math Guru, a boutique math and science tutoring studio in Toronto, which I started almost five years ago. My goal? To make everyone finally understand that the only thing standing in their way of being a ‘math person’ is the belief in the myth that such a thing as a ‘math person’ exists in the first place.

Let me back up. When I was in high school, I actually failed Grade 11 math twice. Twice! I wasn’t the type of girl who did math, I mean, I was artsy. Artsy people aren’t MATH people, right?! Well, my parents weren’t too pleased with the whole, “I’m just not a math person” thing and decided it was time for an educational switch. In Grade 12 I headed to another school and ended up finding my mathematical guru. Not only did my new teacher speak to me in words that made sense, but she inspired me to find the ‘math person’ within – the one that lies within us all.

Most importantly, I learned that even though some things don’t come easy, that with enough perseverance and perspective that those things do come one way or another. I couldn’t believe that I had wasted such a huge chunk of my teenage life convinced that math just wasn’t something that I was ever going to ‘get’, and that this wonderful world of mathematics was simply off limits to someone like me.

I eventually entered teacher’s college full of hope, dreams and a burning desire to help teenagers discover their inner mathematicians. I walked into the head of the math department’s office on my first teaching day, excited to change the world. The first words that came of his mouth? “What’s a pretty girl like you doing being a math teacher?” And that was that.

I became obsessed with the fact that there are a TON of people out there who abide by the stereotype of what a ‘math person’ looks like. Did I not fit this stereotype because I was artsy? Because I didn’t wear glasses? Because I didn’t know the first thing about video games? Because…I’m a girl?

I decided to make it my mission to do what I could to make sure that this never happens to anyone else – especially not to girls, who are the most susceptible.

What did it mean that I could actually do something that I had been convinced that I never had the capacity to do? It meant everything.  It meant that we can do anything we put our minds to regardless of what society tells us we should be able to do. Girls are constantly told that ‘they can’t’.

We need to encourage girls to do math to show them they can; to create a diverse generation of problem solvers; to defy stereotypes once and for all.

So how can you begin to encourage girls to persevere when it seems like the patriarchal world of mathematicians is against them? Like this:

I’m not the only one who’s been there – we’re all in this together. If you’ve got a story to share, a bone to pick, or simply another idea to add to the ‘how can you encourage girls to persevere’ list, I would love to hear from you! Email me at vanessa@themathguru.ca and let’s make sure that no girl ever feels like she’s not a ‘math person’ ever again!

Vanessa Vakharia, MA Mathematics Education,  Founder of The Math Guru
Social Media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter & Snapchat: @themathguru
Website: http://www.themathguru.ca/

Vanessa is the founder and director of The Math Guru, a boutique math & science tutoring studio in Toronto. She has her Masters of Math Education and specializes on teenage engagement in mathematics education.