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Ask an Expert: Middle school girls and math.

Q. My seventh grade daughter is good at math but lacks confidence in the subject. She has been placed a full grade ahead in math but complains about taking math with eighth grade students, which feels intimidating to her. She wants to go back down to seventh grade math to be with her peers but I feel this would be a mistake as she is doing A work and clearly is capable of the higher level math. Any suggestions on how to increase her confidence level about math as a subject? She also likes science and a higher track in math is important if she wants to take higher level science classes in high school or some of the AP science classes will be out of reach without calculus in high school. – Susan of Boulder

A. Taking math with eighth-graders can be a bit intimidating. Over the years I have had several seventh grade students placed in my eighth grade algebra class and, in the end, they were successful. At the beginning of the year they definitely had to work to find a place where they were comfortable, but, in the end, they settled in and felt comfortable with their eighth grade counterparts.

In fact, several of these students felt more comfortable when they transitioned to high school because they had already learned to work in a class of mixed grade levels and knew some upper classmen. If your daughter is capable at mathematics and truly understanding the topics she is studying, then – if at all possible – leaving your daughter in her current class would be the most beneficial to her.

Talk to the teacher

Have you spoken with her math teacher? Her math teacher would have an idea of which students your daughter gets along with or who are the most approachable. If you shared your daughter’s concerns with the teacher, maybe he/she could partner your daughter with one of those students and create an environment in which your daughter feels more comfortable communicating and working with her classmates.

If your daughter shares the same lunch period with the eighth grade students, maybe the teacher could arrange for a group of students to come in at lunch and just work together or get to know each other, making sure to include your daughter in that group so she can benefit from a more informal atmosphere and make connections that can hopefully make her feel more comfortable as she works in her math class.

You mentioned that your daughter likes science as well. Math and science do go hand in hand. Finding ways to connect her studies and success in science to the mathematics she used to understand the science concepts would help reinforce her confidence in her abilities in mathematics.

Also, many universities offer summer camp or weekend programs to support girls in mathematics. Check with Colorado Math Circle, which is affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder, for starters.

When to pull the plug

However, if your daughter is still uncomfortable and that discomfort is becoming too great for her be successful, moving her out of the eighth grade class may be the most beneficial. If your daughter completes algebra 1 before she leaves middle school, that will set her up to complete calculus while in high school. Completing algebra 1 as an eighth-grader is generally the requirement for most advanced science classes as a ninth-grader. I would recommend checking with your daughter’s counselor or the high school to verify these requirements.

Editor’s note: Check out this video of Heaney providing middle school math tips for girls.

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