Math is an essential subject for students to master in preparation for life after the classroom. The core principles of learning numbers and learning how to count are an integral part of math that many females show disinterest in at an early age, which influences math performance as time goes by (Gouwe, Mathipa, & Netshitangani, 2017). A plethora of research is available that shows that girls are less interested in math than their boy counterparts. Casad, Hale, and Wachs (2015) conducted research that determined that a child’s math anxiety is heavily attributed to parent anxieties as well as gender stereotypes. According to Wang and Degol (2017), parents who believe in math gender stereotypes think that boys have a higher math ability than girls. These same parents tend to shape the children’s math abilities by voicing their opinions about gender stereotypes. Based on prior research, there is a strong need to determine the effects of gender segregation on math achievement using research-based methods of intervention. This area of study is important because it serves as a focal point to reiterate that all students are capable of learning as long as appropriate instruction is occurring so that no students will get lost in the gap.
Statement of the Problem
According to Lauer, Esposito, and Bauer (2018), females readily admit that math reasoning causes apprehension or math anxiety. Many girls have negative attitudes when it comes to math and believe that they are not good math students. These stereotypes contribute to lowered expectations and math achievement for girls (Tichenor, Welsh, Corcoran, Piechura, & Heins, 2016). All stakeholders, including students, teachers, and parents, will benefit from this study as an attempt is made to determine the best environment to provide mathematics instruction to these students. Benefits for completing this study include determining the reasons for math anxiety, improving math achievement for students, and decreasing negative attitudes about math in general.
The purpose of this study is to determine the effects of gender segregation on math intervention, and if it improves student achievement. The study will be completed in a rural Southwest Georgia public school. This study is important in proving or disproving the need for gender segregation when it comes to teaching mathematics to students. Pre-tests and post-tests will be utilized to determine math achievement as well as observations and interviews.
For the purpose of this study, the following question was addressed:
1. Does gender segregation, consisting of a boys-only or a girls-only classroom environment, affect student achievement in a math intervention setting?
As part of this study, the investigation included the following hypothesis:
1. Students who are taught in a segregated mathematics classroom using research-based intervention methods will perform better in math.
- Math anxiety—“feelings of panic, uneasiness, or fright that many people encounter when deciphering math problems” (Casad, Hale, & Wachs, 2015, p. 1-2).
- Self-efficacy—“confidence in the ability to succeed” (Casad et al., 2015, p. 3).
- Gender—“state of being male, female, or neuter” (Gouwe et al., 2017, p. 9150)
- Mathematics—“discipline that deals with the logic of shape, quantity, and arrangement” (Gouwe et al., 2017, p. 9150)
- Foundation phase—“educators who do not specialize and have to teach all subjects offered” (Gouwe et al., 2017, p. 9149)
- Spatial anxiety—“feelings of uneasiness motivated by activities that require spatial thinking” (Lauer, Esposito, & Bauer, 2018, p. 2126)
- Motivational framework—“child’s acceptance about the constancy of intellect and the penchant for easy tasks” (Park, Gunderson, Tsukayama, Levine, & Beilock, 2016, p. 300)
- Theory of intelligence—“Individual’s different implicit theories relating to the nature of intelligence” (Park et al., 2016, p. 300)
- STEM—“Consists of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics/statistics disciplines” (Casad et al., 2015, p. 1).
Review of the Literature
Numerous studies have attempted to show that a relationship exists between gender segregation and math achievement and have sought to understand the reasoning for this rationale. Tichenor, Welsh, Corcoran, Piechura, and Heins (2016) completed a study about the attitudes that girls have towards math in mixed-gender and single-gender classrooms. The completed research attributed the math attitudes to interactions with parents and teachers. However, Zilanawala, Martin, Noguera, and Mincy (2018), completed a similar study with African American males that analyzed math achievement trajectories in African American males. This research used standardized test scores that were converted to scale scores to compare several years of scores. The researchers also used family background data as well as school-level characteristics, such as teacher experience, attendance rates, and school climate. The existing research shared many common themes in reference to gender segregation and math achievement including math anxiety, math attitudes, and gender stereotypes. Numerous studies have been related to gender and math achievement that are filled with important findings, but the effects of gender segregation is an area that is lacking and needs to be researched to determine the complete effects.
Lauer et al. (2018) conducted research on how anxiety relates to math performance and spatial performance. The researchers found that math achievement was greatly hindered when it was coupled with a greater level of math anxiety. Students were given a questionnaire that measured the level of anxiety in math and spatial areas. The questionnaires consisted of problem-solving scenarios that had to be rated with an emoji to determine the anxiety levels. Math achievement was measured using i-Ready, a standardized math assessment. Spatial performance and reading ability were also tested. The researchers determined that all scores were positively correlated with each other. Lauer et al. (2018) noted that the findings showed that anxiety is greater in tasks that require problem-solving skills. The researchers also found no significant gender differences in math achievement, even though girls reportedly experience a higher level of anxiety in math (Lauer et al., 2018). Casad et al. (2015) also researched math anxiety along with math-gender stereotypes. These researchers sought to determine whether math anxiety and stereotypes predicted math achievement. The results indicate that a parent’s math anxiety and gender stereotypes in the classroom pose a threat to math achievement. This research indicated a need to reduce the parent’s anxieties as well as dispel gender stereotypes.
According to Casad et al. (2015), the environment and self-efficacy played a major role as a catalyst for a negative consequence related to math anxiety. The consequences included avoidance of math, less confidence, negative math attitudes, and a gender gap when it comes to STEM careers (Casad et al., 2015). According to Wang and Degol (2017), gender differences in math are minimal in early childhood and do not emerge until later years. However, the researchers noted that girls lose some ground in mathematics, as early as kindergarten. Wang and Degol (2017) also noted that culture and beliefs about male/female abilities are linked to math attitudes and stereotypes.
Gouwe, Mathipa, and Netshitangani (2017) conducted a qualitative study that consisted of teacher interviews that included teachers in the foundation phase. The research sought to determine why gender had an effect on math performance and why girls are disinterested in the subject. All students are taught using the same materials and standards. Another directly related research study completed by Tichenor et al. (2016) determined that girls have a negative attitude towards mathematics in general. These attitudes stemmed from gender stereotypes and a fixed mindset, which is the attitude that boys perform better in math, which in turn caused girls to lose confidence. Tichenor et al. (2016) also determined that girls should gravitate to a more growth mindset, which increases confidence, achievement, and interest in female students. The results may signal the need for single-gender classrooms to reduce gender-specific stereotypes (Tichenor et al., 2016). A weakness in this research was that participants should come from more than one school in future studies.
Teacher-Reported Instructional Practices
Unlike the prior research, Park, Gunderson, Tsukayama, Levine, and Beilock (2016), focused the research on the instructional practices of the teachers. The research sought to determine the relationship these motivational frameworks had in common with math achievement. Park et al. (2016) tested the relationship between the motivation of the student and achievement in math by determining if instructional practices predict motivational frameworks. The researchers concluded that math achievement is related to the motivational level. The theories of intelligence were also tested to determine the relationship between the teacher’s theories of intelligence and the motivational framework. Park et al. (2016) determined that instructional practices did not predict motivational frameworks, nor was it a predictor of math achievement.
In conclusion, the research is thorough and somewhat conclusive. However, there is a need to target the effects that separating the male and female students will have on math intervention and achievement. The existing literature has not completely researched all areas. The proposed study will determine the effects of gender segregation on math intervention success. The proposed research design will be quantitative in nature and experimental in design using single-subject research of a group of 4th-grade students.
In the proposed study, the following questions will be addressed:
- Does math anxiety play a role in math achievement?
- Does the presence of gender stereotypes influence attitudes in a math classroom?
- Do students believe classrooms should be separated by gender and why?