NOTE: This piece was published by the Huffington Post on Nov. 27, 2013.
Have you seen this viral video of three little girls building a Rube Goldberg-style “Princess Machine”? It was made by GoldieBlox, which is trying to encourage a love of math and engineering by designing construction toys “from the female perspective.”
Set aside the complaints that it’s sexist to assign a “perspective” to women. I say it’s about time we do something. When it comes to encouraging math, public schools are still stuck in Teen Talk Barbie mode.
A recent Junior Achievement survey of teenagers showed a major decline in interest in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) as a career. “Math class is tough!”
While it’s true that female 4th- and 8th-graders made gains in math on the latest Nation’s Report Card (NAEP), the last international PISA test found that American 15-year-olds scored well below the world average. We ranked 25th out of all so-called OECD nations. There are only 34 OECD nations. Do the math.
Our students do, however, have the most confidence in their own academic abilities. So there’s that. “Self-esteem is fun!”
By the way, the new PISA scores for 2012 come out on December 3. Maybe we’ll beat Slovenia. Fingers crossed!
So what are we doing about it? Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pushing a Common Core curriculum that 45 states have signed up for but that everybody seems to hate, while chastising “white suburban moms” who oppose it. You know, former girls.
I’ve got a better idea. Let’s change the tests themselves.
Check out a sample math question for 4th-graders from the Nation’s Report Card:
“Lisa sold 15 cups of lemonade on Saturday and twice as many on Sunday. Which expression represents the total number of cups of lemonade she sold on both days?”
A. 15 + 15
B. 2 * 15
C. 15 + (2 * 15)
D. 2 * (15 + 15)
First off, nobody runs lemonade stands anymore. It’s not worth the criminal record. Second, First Lady Michelle Obama wants to put our fat daughters on a low-sugar diet. Third, what about the kids with lemon allergies?
No. Testing must be made relevant to the everyday lives of teen and ‘tween girls. What are their actual dreams and aspirations? Let’s take a cue from GoldieBlox and design math tests from the female perspective.
QUESTION ONE (4th grade)
Lisa took a Seventeen Magazine survey to find out which One Direction song “totally describes her life.” The answer was “Little Things.” Hello, she doesn’t even like that song! Lame. Lisa’s friend encouraged her to Tweet her feelings to the editors. If each word averages five characters, at 140 characters how many words can she type?
A ) 20
B ) 28
C ) 38
D ) “This sucks, let’s play Candy Crush.”
QUESTION TWO (4th grade)
Time for your weekly mani-pedi! Unfort, there’s like this superlong waiting list for an appointment. So unfair. If 10 girls are getting their fingernails done and 5 more are getting their fingers and toes done, how many total digits does that make?
A ) 50
B ) 150
C ) 200
D ) “What’s a digit?”
QUESTION THREE (4th grade)
Emma is at Chuck E. Cheese for her bestie Ashley’s birthday. Emma’s mom orders two veggie pizzas with eight slices each. If Emma eats two slices from one pizza and four slices from another, which of the following statements is not true?
A ) There are 10 slices left.
B ) There are 6 slices left on one pizza and 4 left on the other.
C ) Five-eighths of the pizza remains.
D ) “Emma threw up in the ball pit, gross!”
QUESTION ONE (8th grade)
Taylor is texting while walking down the sidewalk. Her frenemy Samantha is watching a video on Vine while walking in the opposite direction, 600 feet away. Taylor walks twice as fast as Samantha. How far from Taylor’s starting point will they meet in a painful head-on collision? Show your work.
A ) 300 feet
B ) 400 feet
C ) 450 feet
D ) “Watch it, ratchet skank!”
QUESTION TWO (8th grade)
Madison and three friends are at the movies. Catching Fire is sold out, so they sneak into a screening of Blue is the Warmest Color. After they run screaming from the theater, the usher catches them and makes them pay full price, $51.00. How much did each girl pay?
A ) $12.75
B ) $13.00
C ) $13.50
D ) “Oh, we all paid for Alexis, her mom was laid off because she has toxic environment syndrome.”
QUESTION THREE (8th grade)
Emily decides to take a selfie for her boyfriend Adam, he’s so sweet, I know, right? It’ll be on Snapchat, so it’s cool, but she wants to take it slow, so it’ll just be from the waist up. You know, tasteful, not full Rihanna. She points the camera toward the mirror at an 80-degree angle from the floor. If she pointed it at the ceiling, how many more degrees would that be?
A ) 10 degrees
B ) 100 degrees
C ) 280 degrees
D ) “Emily, I found this on your iPhone. We need to talk, young lady.”