The words “don’t” and “can’t” mean two drastically different things.
Yet, when Kirin Sinha, a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), tutored younger students, she noticed that boys often used one word, while girls used another in the same scenario.
Boys said that they don’t understand fractions, whereas the girls said they can’t.
That subtle discernment combined with Sinha’s love for dance led to an idea that’s rethinking the way in which we approach STEM (that’s science, technology, engineering, and math to the uninitiated) learning among females. About a year and a half ago, the theoretical math and computer science and electrical engineering major founded SHINE, an eight-week-long after-school program for middle school girls combining dance classes with a tailored math curriculum.
Sinha, who began taking tap, ballet, and jazz at age three, realized that her self-confidence and discipline came not from her love of math — but from her years of dance training.
“You’re taught to work really hard and work through the sheer sweat and grit,” Sinha, now also a professional dancer, told the Boston Globe. “That stuck with me through math.”
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Struck by the thought that perhaps it was dancing that built certain skills that were left out of math curriculums, she launched the after-school program in hopes to encourage more young females to be confident and interested in math.
The Boston and Cambridge-area program begins with dance class followed by time spent solving math problems. Sinha also designed the program to convey math through games — using movement and dancing to work out a problem that typically is reasoned in silence in the classroom.
“And when they go upstairs and they have a mental block about — ‘I don’t understand how to solve this equation,’ we can say, ‘Well, think about what you did at the dance studio downstairs,'” Sinha told CBS.
For example, the girls solve algebra problems by assigning dance moves to different parts of an equation or play a game of Simon Says to formulate a geometric shape.
The program, which is slated to expand to a selection of New York public schools next year, has not only encouraged more young females to be comfortable doing math but also to feel confident. Sinha has tested some of her students at the beginning and the end of the program to measure gains and has found up to a 273 percent improvement, CBS reports.
This summer Sinha is working toward expanding the program nationally and plans to attend the University of Cambridge in the fall on a Marshall scholarship, where she hopes to launch an international version.
While she’s aiming to attract more female STEM students, Sinha’s hope is to teach young women that they shouldn’t feel boxed in by a stereotype.
“What we really want to teach these girls is that those boxes that they feel they might be in are completely imaginary,” she added.