Texas Tech University

After-School Math Clubs Score Big With Area Girls

“Math is hard!”

In the early ’90s, a talking Barbie doll ignited controversy on how girls perceived math and were being discouraged from the study of math and science. Jerry Dwyer, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics at Texas Tech University, and graduate student Rachel Cline are on a crusade to prove that girls just want to have fun. And by fun they mean solving quadratics and factoring trinomials.

They’ve taken their quest to Sister Lisa Taylor’s classroom at Christ the King Cathedral School in Lubbock, among others, where they’ve launched an after-school girl’s math club. When Dwyer walks into the room, he playfully waves at the students and in his native-Irish accent, he greets the class.

“Hello, students, what are we learning today?” he asks.

Part of the goal, Dwyer says, is to interest young girls in mathematics. The larger mission is to use math to instill a greater sense of confidence and empowerment in adolescent girls.

“It’s very important for us to teach girls that doors will open when they have an interest in math,” Dwyer says. “We want to be able to show them the possibilities that await. The after school hours are critical in that it’s better to have children in a classroom learning and having fun rather than being home alone or out on the streets.”

Dwyer and a group of women, mostly Texas Tech graduate students, travel to six local junior high schools and grade schools to assist with the clubs. The strategy in this, he says, is to introduce young girls to inspiring, number-crunching female role models. Students are paired together and assigned to work on puzzles that require them to apply logic, arithmetic and reasoning.

Maria Alambar, a math teacher at Christ the King, says the after-school math clubs are helping students.

“I can see the benefit in that the kids are getting critical thinking skills,” she says. “I’ve also heard a lot of good things from parents who see their children developing more interest in math, and that makes me feel good.”

Rachelle McNeely, a mathematics graduate student at Texas Tech, joins with Atkins Junior High School math teacher Lynette Moreno once a week to host the school’s club.

“This is particularly beneficial because it not only allows me to gain experience working with children in the classroom, but it also exposes kids to math more than the one hour or so that they normally get in a day,” she says.

Moreno couldn’t agree more.

“The girls come here after school on their own free will. We provide snacks, the students work through math puzzles and assignments, and they’re very happy here,” she says. “I’ve been helping with this for two years now, so we have some girls who have been coming here once a week for two years to be a part of this. They come because it’s fun, and as a result, they perform better on math assignments in class.”

Other schools involved in the initiative include Cavazos and O.L. Slaton junior high schools, Ramirez Elementary and Bennett Intermediate School in the Frenship School District.

- Michael Castellon