October 8, 1999 Geneva, NY – Margrethe Flanders, a senior at William Smith College, has read all the hype about young girls and mathematics. Since it is often written that it is at about the middle school age that girls lose interest in math, Flanders wanted to reach out to local middle school girls so as to help them understand that this didn't need to be the case, that is was possible for them to develop their own voices in math. She meets with eight seventh-graders from Geneva Middle School each Friday from 6:30 until 7:30 p.m., doing such things as taxicab geometry and writing exercises based in math.
This group started meeting last year, when Flanders coordinated efforts with the math department at the middle school to work with several girls (who were recommended by their teachers for this pilot program) one afternoon each week. At the beginning she lead them through intricate logic problems and math games using strategies of non-competition. She wanted to entertain them while at the same time making them realize that there are often several ways to approach a problem. Throughout the year the projects changed and grew, and Flanders knew she wanted to work with the girls again this year.
Flanders' passion for math is an outgrowth of her experiences since arriving at William Smith. She says she was turned off to math herself in middle school, but after taking a couple of math courses here she found that she loved it. “My rediscovered ability to do math was empowering.” she says. Flanders worked with HWS Professor of Math Ann Oaks to develop an independent study project on gender issues in math that has now led to an honors project in the same area.
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