That’s Right, You’re Going to Math Camp!
When I uttered those words to my six-year-old at the dinner table, she burst into tears. Granted, there was a bit of demonic glee in my voice. But I was excited to learn that the Y was offering math camp, which would allow me to maintain the same drop-off/pick-up schedule while lessening the guilt about summer brain drain.
Many kids would probably have the same reaction. Who wants to spend a summer vacation working math problems?
That’s not what math camp is all about, though. STEM programs that incorporate a lot of math are going to teach kids how to apply it. Spy camps, cybersecurity programming, and engineering will all use math to solve problems. If math camps didn’t have some element of fun, they would soon go out of business.
Spending the whole day solving for x would be like spending a whole day at soccer camp practicing corner kicks. At sports camps, you’re going to do some drills, and then apply those skills in a scrimmage match. Same thing with academic camps.
“I’m just not a reading person.”
No one says that. Who wants to seem illiterate?
But if you say “I’m not a math person,” you get a round of sympathetic nods and giggles. Like math is for other people, is uncool, and only those with a special gene can really comprehend it.
There is a pervasive fear of math in our culture that we don’t seem to have for other subjects.
Imagine a scenario at work where the marketing manager receives a budget report from the finance department. The marketing person can say “you’re going to have to explain this to me in plain English; I don’t really get all the number stuff.” The finance person would feel guilty that they didn’t dumb down the presentation for non-math people.
However, imagine if the finance manager went to the HR manager and said “I don’t understand the benefits package. I’m not really a reading person.” That probably wouldn’t go over so well.
Math is a Life Skill
We don’t need calculus in everyday life, but we do need to be comfortable with percentages, statistics, and fractions. Many jobs that are not math-oriented still require familiarity with basic concepts.
Any corporate manager will have to be familiar with business metrics such as return on investment, digital marketing conversion rates, or employee turnover.
An English teacher will have to filter through standardized test data and understand student performance statistics across various socio-economic groups.
And then there are the basics of consumer finance. How much is that $100 pair of shoes going to really cost when you don’t pay off your credit card each month? How do you figure out the best deal on a new car when faced with various combinations of down payments, trade-in values, and interest rates?
We send our kids to sports camps so they learn the value of teamwork and physical coordination, not so they can train to be an MLS player. The same holds true for STEM camps; it’s part of developing well-rounded children with complete skill sets.
We tend to associate certain profiles with certain activities, and if we don’t fit the stereotypical image, we are less likely to try that activity. When my daughter was five, she assumed that men couldn’t be doctors - simply because her pediatrician is a woman.
What image comes to mind when you think of a CEO, a teacher, or a ballerina? What kind of kids do you picture attending chess, chemistry, or robotics camp? If your child doesn’t fit that image, do you even explore those options?
Our own biases can also dictate which types of summer camps we even tell our kids about. Your list of options is influenced by your philosophy about how kids should spend summer vacation. Where do you fall on the spectrum?
Summer is a time to relax, have fun, and enjoy being a kid.
Summer is a time to refine sports skills or try all the sports you don’t have time for during the year.
Summer is a time to apply academic skills in fun ways that promote an interest in learning.
Summer is a time to get ahead and work on skills that will help get you into college.
It’s clear that more girls gravitate to social, cultural, and language-related camps than boys. This includes drama, cooking, yoga, and crafts. And there are more boys in sports and computer camps.
My older daughter was always afraid of being the only girl. She insisted on an all-girls soccer camp and I sent her to a girls-only program for sleepaway camp. She spends most of her non-school hours at ballet. However, that does not prevent her from occasionally choosing options that you’d normally associate with boys’ preferences.
When choosing a topic for a clinic with Duke TIP, she went with “Engineering Great Structures.” I said nothing about the probable boy/girl ratio in the class and anxiously peeked into the room at drop-off. Fortunately, there was at least one other girl. She ended up having a good time, and enjoyed testing loads on balsa wood bridges. She subsequently used her knowledge of triangular braces to construct the best structure for a school project.
Her first choice for a weeklong academic program was Journalism. This was not based on expectations of who would be in the group, and whether she would feel comfortable. She happens to like writing and is good at it. I, on the other hand, knew she would be happy because it would certainly be at least 50% girls. Unfortunately, she did not get her first choice and wound up in Finance & the Economy (which I think she chose based on the fact that I had a finance/accounting job). Again, I was worried about there being enough girls for her to make friends. Fortunately, the group was about 40% girls.
The point is that without preconceived notions of group compositions, we may make completely different choices. If my daughter had the chance to scope out the classes first, she would have chosen the one with the most people who looked like her. She would likely have wound up in the medical services group, which she would have hated, as she finds all things related to doctors and hospitals scary and icky.
A recent study, outlined in this New York Times article, found that while girls tend to do better than boys in English across the board, there is an early gender gap in math. But only in more affluent school districts. Paradoxically, these children are raised in more traditional families where the father has a higher-earning job in business or science, and daughters therefore may see fewer women with STEM careers.
Sending girls to STEM camps is a great way to counteract this perception bias and promote math as a worthy activity for girls.