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School will divide boys, girls in new math test

June 01, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails, and puppy-dogs' tails,

That's what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice, and everything nice,

That's what little girls are made of.

In gender-segregated fourth- and fifth-grade math classes next year at Mill Creek Intermediate School, the teachers of about 100 "little boys" and "little girls" will orchestrate an experiment to find out just how differently learning varies, too.

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"If it helps our students be more successful mastering math skills, it's worth a try," principal Kimberly Agee said.

Described as an "instructional option" rather than an experiment, Agee said the segregation concept for math is being explored because of a need to improve students' math scores.

The teachers involved in the segregated math instruction are planning together and will teach the same curriculum to students who randomly will be selected for the test group.

Another group of students will remain gender-integrated for comparison.

Agee said research has shown boys and girls learn differently and respond differently to a teacher.

Young boys tend to blurt out answers, while girls are more apt to think through a process before they respond, Agee said.

She expects the segregation could make the girls feel more comfortable in class participation and will remove a distracting element of competition.

As it stands now, Agee said research shows more boys are going into math-related fields than girls.

"We think it will be a success, either way it goes," Agee said. "We are always looking for innovative strategies to provide the best instruction we can."

If the results of the study are positive, the project could be expanded, said Frank Aliveto, deputy superintendent of Berkeley County Schools.

"I think it's a very interesting concept," Aliveto said.

In an April press release from Tel Aviv University, a professor there said she found that classes populated with a majority of girls actually were positive for boys' learning success in the classroom.

Analia Schlosser said in the release that her research showed that classes that consisted of at least 55 percent girls resulted in better overall exam results and fewer violent outbursts after studying all grade levels of mixed classrooms in the Israeli school system.

The launch of Mill Creek's project comes at the end of a fitness pilot project at Hedgesville High School, Aliveto said.

Some of the high school's 10th-graders are taking a physical education class that features only "motion fitness" and no sports, Aliveto said.

Aliveto said weights and measurements were taken at the beginning of the year to gauge any differences between the group and the traditional program.

Though he didn't have the results of the study, Aliveto believes the outcome will show a substantial change in weight and endurance for the students participating in the experimental class.

The test

BOYS: Boys tend to blurt out answers.

GIRLS: Girls tend to think through a problem before responding.

GOAL: By taking away the competitive aspect, school officials want to see if girls feel more comfortable in math classes.

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