The Women’s Club Learning Mathematics: A Space for the Democratization of Knowledge

The Women’s Club Learning Mathematics: A Space for the Democratization of Knowledge

Club students meet every Monday after regular lessons. / Jose Vargas

Photo: Jose Vargas Esguera

Santa Maria de Obate School, a little over two hours from Bogotá, is one of the few women’s public educational institutions in Cundinamarca with about two thousand students, and although it is in the villages of the municipality, where there are primary schools, they have received children who are not They have schools near their homes, in the headquarters, located in the urban area of ​​Opati, the space is still reserved for women only.

Teacher Natalia Paloma arrived at school in 2020, a few days before the declaration of the epidemic and confinement in Colombia; There he taught classes in mathematics, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry, but his greatest commitment was to encourage his students to take an interest in the study of mathematics.

At the university, where he studied basic education with an emphasis on mathematics, he became interested in learning mathematics from language and along with some of his classmates developed a research seed to advance reading comprehension and the ability to argue in mathematics. “I like spaces where students can participate voluntarily, it’s an ideal scenario,” she explains, and says, based on her experience, she created spaces to bring about this voluntary interest on the part of students.

The experimental pedagogical school, where he worked, was useful to him in exploring other forms of teaching, focused on processes and experiences, from student autonomy and away from traditional approaches. Her experience at another school, where classes were divided into boys and girls, also brought her closer to seeing mathematics from a gender perspective. “There I became interested in women’s education, because there were disparate spaces, and the comments of students and teachers that marked the difference between one and the other.”

With a tour prepared for his arrival at the Santa Maria School, not counting his participation in museums and seedbeds, he created a virtual space with students from recent courses who wanted to deepen the topics covered in class. Despite the great difficulty of the school being the lack of internet access for young women, more and more students and their sisters from other classes and other girls who became curious about word of mouth were able to meet.

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This is how they formed the Club for Women Learning Mathematics, and as an incentive, Paloma ran meetings with women dedicated to mathematics, such as Professor Carolina Neira, of the National University, who is also part of the Commission for Equality and Gender in Colombia. Mathematics community, and from her experience she spoke with students about career possibilities across the region and the importance of women’s contribution to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM, for short).

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One of the special advantages of promoting and increasing the participation of women in STEM fields is the possibility of finding more complete solutions, taking into account the diverse experiences and analyzes that contribute to the benefit of the population in general and to the achievement of the sustainable development goals, which is something the forums are. Of the world, scientific and academic organizations match, such as Neira.

It must be remembered that although women make up half the population, only 28% of all researchers in the world are women, and in the Colombian case the figure is as high as 38%, according to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. But if we talk about more specific fields, such as engineering, in October 2021 an investigation by the Salesian University Foundation indicated that in Colombia, of all engineering students, only 14% are women.

Although these numbers show a lag in these college and professional fields, the origin of this gender gap lies in early childhood and basic education, in prejudices and common phrases such as “blue for boys, pink for children”. Girls “,” You should look feminine “,” Girls don’t play with cars “,” which later became ‘This is a race for men’, ‘Women are not for that’, and although it seems like a thing of the past, it is still well established.

“We need to stimulate (girls) interest from the early years, to combat stereotypes, train teachers to encourage girls to choose STEM careers, develop gender-sensitive curricula, guide them and change preconceptions,” read in the book Decoded: Educating Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)from UNESCO.

For this reason, Paloma created the Club so that students who wish to participate can obtain educational experiences that complement, expand and deepen the processes and concepts of regular classes and address these topics. Initially in virtual reality, now in person, this professor’s project is part of her doctoral thesis titled “Curriculum Principles for Promoting Adolescent Girls’ Participation in Mathematics”, from the Educational and Technological University of Columbia (UPTC).

Promote independence from mathematics

Adriana Sofía Espitia is 14 years old, she is in the ninth grade, and since this year she decided to attend club sessions. “Knowing the experiences of colleagues who worked at the club last year and that gave them good results motivated me to sign up, also because here I can review and reinforce the topics seen in previous years,” she says. Like her, about 120 students from Santa María de Ubaté meet, on their own initiative, weekly to work on their math skills and reinforce what they see in regular classes with the rest of their classmates.

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Paloma believes that her management would have no place without the interest and participation of the students, which is why she always talks about the club as a joint effort and teamwork. “One goal, together with students and the educational community, is to create reliable and safe meeting spaces in which bonds are strengthened that allow the smashing of stereotypes about women’s access to higher education and science, particularly science and mathematics.”

Every Monday, after 1:30 p.m., when classes are over, 6th-8th graders meet with teacher Natalia for different activities. The guides are funded by the Parents’ Association and are the main working material. Students are grouped into tables of four and sit deadlocked next to other girls from the same class, but the evidence is the same for everyone. With diagrams to remember, workshops and a state of the problem to solve, she works for an hour on topics such as area and perimeter, while the teacher gives some explanations to the whole group and then moves from table to table to clarify doubts and accompany the process of each a.

“The activities are diverse, and the good thing is that they do not tell us what topic we are going to work on, rather the day corresponding to the meeting surprises us with the activity, when we do not tell, for example, he knows or does not remember any topic, he explains to us in a good way. Adriana Sofia says about her experience in club sessions, I love the club and recommend it.Just as I decided to be part of the club for fun, other classmates found space to catch up, like Alexandra, from the sixth grade: “I joined because I wasn’t good at math, and the activities we do here They are very different from the classroom and help me understand better. “

The following Monday, the meeting is held at the same time, but with 9th through 11th graders who can attend, since many of them have an extra day of study in Accounting and Commerce to graduate as Seine Technical Bachelors. In this space the dynamics of the workshops are preserved, but Paloma explained that “part of their needs, if they ask me to work on issues like factoring so that they can work on the borders, we do it; it happens with the higher courses, because they think about their classes and exams Saber and their professional projects.

In the case of final year students, in the club the teacher not only reinforces the topics of the class, but also looks for calls, workshops and activities to promote students’ entry into higher education, because although it differs from standard tests as a way of assessing the ability of female students, she understands that it is the way to be able From access to higher education in many cases, through entrance exams, scholarships or agreements based on the results of said tests.

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“I like that students can apply to the national university from the lower grades, from the ninth grade, for example, so that they can get used to the forms, so that they can analyze the type of test and from there study what they need,” the teacher says.

He also seeks with them to take educational outings to a symposium on philosophy and the epistemology of mathematics taught by Professor Fernando Zalamia Traba at the National University of Colombia, as he has done in other schools, to bring students closer to the dynamics of scholastic mathematics, both college and advanced. In particular, “The ideal is to do at least one visit each semester with students who want to go, but after the pandemic we have not been able to do that because the government has not yet processed the insurance that students need in this kind of activity,” Paloma explains, He hopes that by the second semester of this year, they will be able to travel to Bogotá for the Zalamia class.

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Explains the article “Athletic Training in Colombia: A View from a Gender Perspective”, from the Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia. Undoubtedly, the work of Professor Natalia Paloma was directed in the first direction, which is sports training from an early age.

As a result of this process, she considers it necessary in education to “enhance the spaces in which they participate voluntarily, because it is difficult to generate meaningful experiences for students in a compulsive way. If you, for example, love biology, but do poorly in mathematics, the way it works is The discipline leads you to a commitment to mathematics and there is no opportunity to delve deeper into what you are passionate about.”

In addition, she explains, the club’s dynamics allow students to collaborate, because the routine of the school often encourages competition for grades, but because this space is voluntary and without grades it changes the environment, everything is profit and their attitude too. They are different, safe sharing spaces are created.”

Although the Club of Women Learning Math continues to integrate into the School of Santa Maria de Obate, the project is that it can grow and leave the institution to the municipality, to create a space in the House of Culture for them, for young people and women who want to learn mathematics and pursue STEM careers, such as Adriana , which aims to study mechatronics engineering or robotics.

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