How P.E.I. girls are building math skills and confidence

A new pilot project aimed at helping Island girls develop their confidence in math is getting top marks from its 11- and 12-year-old participants. 

Pilot project promotes positive math messaging, builds skills through everyday activities

A couple students at Mount Stewart Consolidated School working with candy to build math skills. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

A new pilot project aimed at helping Island girls develop their confidence in math is getting top marks from its 11- and 12-year-old participants. 

Girls Get Math is developed by non-profit group STEAM P.E.I., which offers hands-on science, technology, engineering, art and math activities for children and youth. The program aims to promote positive math messaging, and build skills through everyday activities. 

"I feel a lot better and a little more confident than I used to be," said Mount Stewart Consolidated School student Emmarie Knockwood. Her school is one of three on P.E.I. participating in the pilot. It is also set to roll out at the French school in Charlottetown in early 2022. 

Knockwood said when she's learning math in her classroom, too often boys in the class shout out the answer first. 

Students Emmarie Knockwood, left, and Chloe Walker, right, say they've enjoyed the all-girls lunchtime math sessions, and say it's easier to learn this way. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News)

"The boys are more confident," said Knockwood, adding it's much more enjoyable to learn math through lunchtime sessions with other girls — and easier to connect with what's being taught. 

"I guess I'd say working together, and friendship, and having fun in math is actually really better than having no fun in math." 

Fellow student Chloe Walker said she also finds it easier to learn and focus on math in this girls-only group setting. 

"It's just girls, and it's different — it's kind of a break," said Walker. 

"Sometimes you may struggle because people in the back are whispering and chatting, but all those little sounds can be a distraction; they're a big distraction for me."

This week, the girls worked with different kinds of candy, worth different amounts per 100 grams, to make a bag worth $1. The idea is to apply math, so students see it as part of their everyday lives, not just a topic covered in the classroom. 

Amber Jadis, Manager of STEAM P.E.I., hopes the program helps girls see themselves as just as capable as boys at math. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News)

"You don't have to have a mathematics degree to be doing math every day," said Amber Jadis, manager with STEAM P.E.I. "That's what I want people to realize: that they are good at math, even if they don't have a mathematics degree or they're not sitting down proving formulas, it doesn't mean they're not good at math." 

The Girls Get Math project runs for six weeks and offers programming for two levels: girls in kindergarten and grade one, and girls in grades 5 and 6. Jadis said grades 5 and 6 have been identified as a turning point for girls — and it's a crucial time to build their confidence in math. 

"It's kind of a go/no-go decision where they decide they're good at math and they're going to continue, or they're not good at math and they're going to avoid it," said Jadis. 

"And as they get into junior high and high school, it can really steer them in one direction or another. And if they feel like they're good at math, they tend more toward the science, technology, engineering and math programs, which is what we want them to feel they have equal opportunities in."

Officials with STEAM P.E.I. hope to show girls that math isn't just something you do in class, it's a part of our everyday life. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

She said despite the fact that girls and boys perform equally well on standardized math testing, many girls continue to feel they aren't as capable as boys — and that leads to lower self-esteem and negative self-talk. She hopes more programs like these will change that. 

The pilot was researched, developed, and implemented with a $40,000 grant from the PEI Interministerial Women's Secretariat. Jadis said the hope is to secure more funding and continue Girls Get Math at more Island schools. 

"I hope that we can continue offering programs like this and get some more funding because this is free for the girls," said Jadis. 

"And we've seen, you know, especially with the lunchtime program, more and more girls have been coming. So we started with seven registered and then we had 12 and 15. And so it's been growing and more girls have been coming and we've encouraged that." 


Jessica Doria-Brown


Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.


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