Tiny ideas to encourage girls to explore mathematics and physics - 1: Introduction
In current world mathematical and physical literacy are essential tools to form the basis of citizenship, and an ever-growing opportunity to professional achievement.
This said, it's also common girls are penalized in gaining access to this knowledge, worldwide. In part, this deprivation comes from self-diminishing attitudes, not based on facts but on questionable cultural stereotype.
I'm firmly convinced these negative perception of "me towards mathematics or physics" may be corrected, and that some of these corrections may be not terribly hard.
The basic idea is that mathematics (and physics of course) is a human creation, designed to be understand by anyone, given sufficient time and motivation. It's a language, not en encryption scheme. And for all, girl and boys as well, is a foreign language: as such, it's always "hard" to learn - but never impossible to be.
Differently stated: mathematics is hard for everyone, at the beginning. Girls are not worse, nor better than boys.
A less basic point is, that mathematics and physics are so wide and diverse to contain entire realms of knowledge in which any unique individual mind can thrive.
Some aspects may even be specifically fulfilling and attractive to the "web thinkers" usually (but not exclusively) girls are. In particular, for example:
- Mathematics for applications to real world, commonsense problems;
- Mathematics as (also) an art of finding deep, non-apparent connections among very different concepts;
- Mathematics and physics as evolving constructions for building powerful, but not definitive, models of reality
- Physics as a discipline advancing through experimentation followed by model identification and test
- Physics and mathematics as possible eye-opener, and ways to analyze things critically;
- Mathematics and physics as wide, mostly uncharted places where "communication and co-creation among distants" is the norm, rather than fight-for-status and the like.
In mathematics and physics there are specific fields which, on average, may exert a deep attraction on girls and more generaly "web thinkers". Among them:
- Graph and network theory (direct representation of any kind of relation among people/things/...)
- Discrete mathematics (where constructive, practically-oriented proofs are more common than conventional deductive processes)
- Mathematical biology and ecology (where the distance of "models" from "complex reality" is so evident)
- Micro-meteorology and micro-climatology (as studying directly connections among biosphere, atmosphere and geosphere)
The same field, for example classical mechanics, may be presented in ways more appealing to web thinkers too.
Many things can be made.
This solution, in fact not-so-reslutive in itself, is just the beginning of a tiny, lightweight collection of practical ideas which, applied, may make girls less afraid by something, I'm sure, they can do.
Before to close this introduction, let me add a bit of personal experience.
Despite the discrimination they may have suffered, in 1982 the mathematics course at University of Milan was mostly populated by young women (65%, as a defect estimate). If, more generally, you consider web thinkers the figure grows to something like an 80%, if not more.
Very much of these people had been actively encouraged to "follow their inclinations" and prefer a career in some caring professions (me included). But they did follow their own path.
At end, many of them survived the harsh selection, very often with good votes. And, this is more revealing, the final ratio of web thinkers to the supposedly more mathematically inclined "linear thinkers", remained as it was among freshmen - this strongly suggests being a web thinker would not prevent you (nor your pupils) from having a successful career in mathematics or physics.