• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Math and Computer Skills

More proficient in it than they realize.

October 9, 2014

If you ask my daughter, she will tell you that I am old. I mean, really old. In fact, I am so old that I don’t really understand her “ipod”. I also admit that I am not instantly comfortable with whatever new Learning Management System our college may decide to use this year. But, if I had to, I could run a regression with a limited dependent variable, one in which the dependent variable takes on only particular values, such as zero or one, or a continuum of values that are truncated at zero. And I could explain exactly why that is the appropriate regression to run, given the questions I am asking. No, I am no computer expert, and I struggle with many of the applications that my daughter expects me to know these days, but when it comes to applying computers to mathematical questions asked in economics, I can do that. However, that does not stop me from feeling ignorant about these mysterious boxes that sit on my desk and taunt me to use skills I often was never taught. I did, after all, grow up mostly without calculators.

I found myself thinking of this recently when I ran into an article that described the important contributions that women made in the development of computers and computer programming.

The article was written by NPR, and was forwarded to me by a colleague. It highlights the important role women played in developing the computer and the programming that went with that development. It seems that the programming of computers was once seen as very unglamorous and was therefore a job given to women when men were not interested in doing it. Although their work was not valued as it should have been, those women actually developed the basis of the programming that runs our computers and other electronic devices. I must admit that I am not surprised that their work was not as noticed by the public as it should have been.

It is not unusual for me to have students who are my age, or perhaps even older than I am. Sometimes, these students will tell me that they simply just can’t do math, an idea that has settled in their brain thanks to attitudes taught to them by former math teachers who insisted that women were naturally not good at math. When I hear this attitude, I respond by telling them that, if they really did raise five or six children, as they sometimes tell me, then they have been doing math all their lives. How do you take a recipe and stretch it to feed seven or eight people? That is math. How do you find enough money in the family budget to meet household expenses? That is math. And how do you intuitively know that you have to treat each child with the same level of fairness without also understanding that numbers added to one side of an equation must also be added to the other? No, if it is the case that someone can raise a house full of children, they can certainly do math.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that Math is the favorite major here at Ursuline. It just means that our students are more proficient in it than they realize, and that it is my job to help them realized that. Now, if I could just figure out how to use Instagram!



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