Girls v. Boys

Warning – the following may be very controversial! I hesitated before posting on this topic, but I am forging on with the idea that constructive debate is healthy.


Some blogs and websites can get carried away with the question: “Are boys better than girls at Mathematics”. For example see:  Mathematics – the final frontier in the feminist war against boys.

As a teacher I see this question as irrelevant. I want to know:  How can we improve the Mathematics ability and attitudes of all students?

We all know that males and females are different in many ways. I say lets celebrate these differences and consider them complimentary.

So what about competition between girls and boys at school? I think some competition can be healthy if handled well by the teacher.

Olympic_schedule_(Competitions)_Volleyball.svgThis week our school had a lunchtime volleyball competition. Their were boys and girls in each team and teachers as well. Our champion basketballer Simone was a definite asset in one team! The event was held in good spirit but was very competitive. This made each player try their best. But should competition only be confined to sport?

Consider what has evolved this term in my year 9 class:

As I walked into my new Year 9 Maths (Ext) class I observed three quarters of the students I had taught before. There were more girls than boys. I knew that many of these students were confident and talented at Maths. And so as the lesson evolved I announced (without planning) that we would have a girls versus boys games competition. The girls immediately took up the challenge, claiming they would beat the boys easily! This stirred a reaction from the boys. The first game was Pente which the girls won easily. The next two weeks they played Set and Chinese Chess, which again resulted in wins to the girls. GIRLS (3) – BOYS (0). Each Wednesday students would enter class eagerly wanting to know if I had remembered to bring the game I had designated.

At this stage I wondered if I had set up a situation which would harm the boys confidence? The fourth Wednesday we did a topic test (Trigonometry) and then played Blokus (see previous post). To my relief the boys won easily. GIRLS (3) – BOYS (1). Next weeks game: Domino Squares. Then an interesting thing happened.

X approached me and asked if the highest test mark could score a point for boys or girls! I said “only if that is OK with the girls”. The girls were very happy to oblige. They were of the opinion that Y would bring home the point for the girls.

Trigonometricfunctions.svgI started marking the test after recess in my spare session. After marking the multiple choice: X 10/10, Y 10/10 and two other students 10/10. All other students had made some errors. At lunchtime X was ready to ambush me on my way to the staffroom.

“What did I get Sir, did I beat Y on the Trig Test?”

Next morning X and Y came to the Maths Office (with supporters), to find out their results. Y had done very well, scoring 62/66; X’s face lit up with a big smile when he saw his mark: 63/66. X said: “Does that mean the boys get a point, Sir?” “It would appear that way”, I replied. X then left the office happily.

Symbol_question.svgNext Tuesday, however, X will learn that another student scored 64/66. It will be a surprise to the whole class. They will have to reassess the ‘pecking order’ in the class. But is it a BOY or a GIRL ?

So is this a healthy classroom situation? Is it conducive to learning or will it backfire? What other things might be point scorers? I would love to hear your opinions!


About webmaths

I have been teaching Mathematics in Victorian secondary schools for 30 years. I use the www to make my maths lessons better. I hope this blog will give other teachers some ideas to try in their own classes.
This entry was posted in Pedagogy, Teaching Ideas and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Girls v. Boys

  1. Kate Nowak says:

    From the way you tell the story, it seems like the competition is inspiring the students to work hard in a nonthreatening way. If year 9 is the same as our 9th grade (age 14-15), in general at that age you see boys being friends with each other and girls being friends with each other, and they are just starting to want to make friends with the other gender, or rekindle friendships from young childhood. Having them work with their own gender probably makes them feel more comfortable.

  2. webmaths says:

    Thanks Kate for your feedback! This is exactly how I see my class. The boys and girls sit with their same sex friends. However, they are happy to mix cross gender at times. I think the games encourage this. As the classroom dynamic progresses we will do some co-operative learning with gender balance.

  3. AdrianC says:

    Competition is not only healthy Jeff, but essential at the middle years in promoting an environment that is conducive to learning.

    Traditionally Mathematics was considered a male pursuit and historically if you look at the great achievements in Mathematics a majority have been achieved by men. The academic world and indeed society discouraged women to pursue their interests in these fields and it wasnt untill the early 1900’s when this began to change and women started to become more prominent. (see this list

    Thats probably getting a bit off topic though. However, I think it is an interesting debate though, and one that probably can’t be given justice in such a short reply. From my own experience at the middle years, I have found that the girls seem to have it over the boys when it comes to the mathematics that is very procedural. They also seem to be much more mature and sensible the way they go about things. In saying that, I think the boys are much more naturally gifted at problem solving. (It needs to be stressed that these are generalizations.)

    Looking forward to other peoples contributions to this great post. Thanks Jeff.

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