104 Future Forwards: Exploring Frontiers in Education
required to transfer and apply their knowledge to real world situations
(Else-Quest, Hyde, & Linn, 2010).
Two Paths for Inquiry
I chose to focus my research on girls and math on the basis of the findings
of the PISA report. I wanted to understand what caused the gender gap
between girls and boys when they are assessed on their ability to transfer
their math knowledge and skills to new problems and contexts.
As I began to focus in on girls and math achievement, it became clear that
there might not be a single answer. There are numerous hypotheses and
studies that address the gender gap between girls and boys in math
achievement. However, two recurring issues emerged in the research I
was reading: differences in girls’ spatial concepts, and differences in girls’
Girls and Spatial Concepts
It is possible that spatial learning may be an area in which girls need more
support developing than boys. Spatial learning, and consequently spatial
relationships, have been shown to have positive impacts on student
ability to understand numbers and other math concepts. In an analysis of
an earlier PISA report, Else-Quest, et.al. (2010), found the area of
mathematics achievement that revealed the largest mean effect size for
gender difference was Space/Shape (which focused on spatial
relationships). Boys demonstrated a significant achievement advantage
in this area.
When looking at gender gaps in math achievement, spatial relationships
present a particularly difficult area for girls. Carr and Davis (2001)
examined the strategy use of first grade girls and boys and found that
girls tended to use manipulative strategies to solve problems, whereas
boys tended to use retrieval (memory) strategies. They also found that
boys were as capable as girls to use manipulative strategies but girls were
not as able as boys to use retrieval. Girls tended to use physical
representations to manipulate numbers, where as boys are more able to
do it using memory or abstractly.