Black Girl MATHgic

Black Girl MATHgic

We’ve long known that girls lose confidence in their science and mathematics abilities in their adolescent years. Not only does this leave a gap in the classroom, but the trend for women in STEM classrooms and careers (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) continues to show underrepresentation – particularly for women of color. This has been a major reason that education and exposure to STEM activities and female professionals has been a component of Chrysalis After-School programs for years.

For math coach Brittany Rhodes, herself a Black woman holding a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in math, this was a problem needing a solution. “I noticed over the years that when my students needed help with higher-level mathematics, like geometry or algebra, many times, it wasn’t the geometry or algebra concepts that they were struggling with,” she says. “Often, it was the math basics. Their foundation wasn’t solid, so everything else just felt a lot more difficult than it should.”

The “math anxiety” Rhodes notes seems to be increasing – according to a report from the United States Department of Education noting that over 93% of American adults claim to experience some degree of these negative feelings.

And studies have proven that this anxiety has a greater effect on women and people of color. “Math anxiety is a key reason why women and people of color are underrepresented in the STEM fields,” Rhodes explains. “Combined with stereotype threat – or negative expectations of performance linked to gender and racial biases – math anxiety, or trauma, shuts a lot of people down, and it shuts them out of STEM.” Because Black girls and women fall into the intersection of two marginalized identities, they suffer these effects more profoundly, which widens the gender and racial gaps in STEM even more.

These reasons prompted Rhodes to create a popular subscription service: Black Girl MATHgic. Each month, subscribers receive a box full of activities and lessons created to increase math confidence and decrease math anxiety in girls in grades 3-8. Every Black Girl MATHgic box contains: 

  • a math activity booklet filled with foundational, real-world math lessons and activities - based on the box theme (each box has a different theme)
  • a profile of a Black woman mathematician
  • a Caring Adult Guide to help maximize the experience
  • 3-5 items to bring the theme to life (including one Screen-Free activity, book, manipulative learning tool, or math game; theme-based, kid-friendly items; and custom themed stickers)

Black Girl MATHgic lessons cover multiplication, division, symmetry, unit rate, budgeting, subtraction, angles, fractions, decimals and more. “I chose to focus on math, especially,” she says. “I applaud the STEM effort, but I think the effort treats math as the appetizer when it should be the entree.” Rhodes wants to take the subscription box international, and a Black Boy MATHgic box is in the works. 

Nearly a decade ago, Chrysalis created WISE-5, a STEM curriculum for after-school programs that involves experiment/activity kits; a range of lessons in math, technology, engineering, and math; and training for GirlPower (high school), college, and female STEM professionals as mentors. We partner with Iowa State University, Drake University, Corteva Agriscience, Bayer/Monsanto, Principal Financial Group, Bank of the West, and Great Western Bank to deliver lessons, career information, and mentoring to girls in all Chrysalis After-School programs.

Evaluations demonstrate WISE-5 increases girls’ interest in STEM education and STEM careers, and improves girls’ sense of competence and mastery in a range of STEM-based activities. It’s our way of working to build the pipeline of female STEM graduates and professionals in the future, and educational opportunities like Black Girl MATHgic are important contributors in this effort.