Mathematical thinking of kindergarten boys and girls

Pnina S. Klein, Esther Adi-Japha and Simcha Hakak-Benizri have written an article called Mathematical thinking of kindergarten boys and girls: similar achievement, different contributing processes. This article was recently published online in Educational Studies in Mathematics. Here is the abstract of their article:

The objective of this study was to examine gender differences in the relations between verbal, spatial, mathematics, and teacher–child mathematics interaction variables. Kindergarten children (N = 80) were videotaped playing games that require mathematical reasoning in the presence of their teachers. The children’s mathematics, spatial, and verbal skills and the teachers’ mathematical communication were assessed. No gender differences were found between the mathematical achievements of the boys and girls, or between their verbal and spatial skills. However, mathematics performance was related to boys’ spatial reasoning and to girls’ verbal skills, suggesting that they use different processes for solving mathematical problems. Furthermore, the boys’ levels of spatial and verbal skills were not found to be related, whereas they were significantly related for girls. The mathematical communication level provided in teacher–child interactions was found to be related to girls’ but not to boys’ mathematics performance, suggesting that boys may need other forms of mathematics communication and teaching.

Several studies have focused on gender differences in mathematics education, but few have focused on gender differences with small children. The study of Klein and colleagues focus on gender differences in relation to “verbal skills, variables of spatial skills, and variables related to environmental factors, including teaching methods, quality of teaching, and mathematical communication”. Four research questions are posed in the study:

  1. “Do kindergarten boys and girls differ mathematically?
  2. Are language and spatial skills related differently to mathematics achievements of boys and girls?
  3. Do boys and girls receive different mathematical communication by their teachers?
  4. Are the patterns of correlation between instructional behavior (mediation) and mathematics achievements different for boys and girls?”

A test called KeyMath was used to measure the mathematical thinking of a selection of children (n=80), half of the children were boys/girls. The test is supposed to cover an age range of 4.6-21 years. There are several subtests within this set of measures. Three tests were used to evaluate the verbal ability of the children, and two were used to evaluate their spatial skills. Observations of mathematical communications in teacher-child interactions were also made in the kindergartens. The actual testing was carried out by the authors of the paper.

The results of the study are quite interesting. They did not find any differences in mathematical achievements between the boys and girls in the study. There was, however, significant gender differences in some of the factors that were related to these results. As they state: “The boys’ mathematical achievement was significantly related to their spatial reasoning, whereas the girls’ mathematical achievement was related to their verbal skills.”

I find this study interesting in many ways, but there are a few issues that I would have liked to learn more about (and that the article does not address):

  • Were the measures translated from English into Hebrew? (If so, I would like to learn more about this process)
  • What are the reasons for deciding on this particular method, and using these particular measures, in the study?

4 thoughts on “Mathematical thinking of kindergarten boys and girls

  1. that's really nice post….Mathematical thinking of kindergarten boys and girls. I was wondering in this article who has better mathematical thinking in boys Vs girls because my son and daughter too go to kindergarten. Thanks for this wonderful article.

  2. If there truly is a gender difference in mathematical thinking for kindergarten boys and girls, as this study suggests, then what contributes to this? I am curious to know, as a pre-service teacher, why spatial reasoning is related to math achievement in kindergarten boys and verbal skills for math achievement in kindergarten girls.What if this mathematical thinking formed early in the preschool years? As I wonder if the types of toys children play with may contribute to these learning styles. For example, it may be more likely to find that more toddler boys play with blocks or legos, thereby influencing their spatial reasoning. Also, possibly, more toddler girls may partake in pretend and imaginative play such as tea parties, thereby influencing their verbal skills.As well, how effective is it for teachers to address this discrepancy in the classroom through teaching balanced instruction with learning manipulatives or read alouds ? Does the range in mathematical thinking in kindergarten boys and girls narrow in range over time? Very interesting! Thanks for posting!

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