American University
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Mathematics and athletics: A winning combination?

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:06 authored by Kathleen Lennon Ambruso

At the end of the twentieth century, two facts are clear: more women are choosing to study mathematics, and more women are participating in sports. Both mathematics and athletics appear to be male domains. The literature suggested that people attracted to mathematics and sports tend to present more stereotypically masculine traits such as "aggressiveness" and "independence". Lastly, success in mathematics has been linked to spatial ability, in particular to the ability to mentally rotate an object in two-dimensional or three-dimensional space. Participation in sports seemed to enhance this ability. Does this translate into success in the mathematics classroom?; This dissertation intended to discover to what extent participation in athletics influences students of mathematics, with special attention paid to the influence felt by women. Specifically, a comparison between athletes and non-athletes was conducted to see if differences in attitude, achievement, and spatial ability might be revealed. Subjects in this study were students at American University who have completed pre-calculus, applied calculus, calculus I or calculus II. Attitude was measured with the classical Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitude Scales as well as the new A-test. In order to measure spatial ability, the subjects were asked to complete a series of mathematics problems that include a spatial component. To compliment the quantitative analysis, in-depth interviews were done. While the quantitative results were not indicative of a gender or athletic bias for many measures of mathematical knowledge, the qualitative analysis suggested otherwise. Specifically, subjects reported feeling that mathematics was perceived as a male domain due to the common media stereotype of a mathematician as well as the lack of female role models in the sciences. However, female athletes tended to view mathematics as a neutral or female domain. Additionally, it would appear that participation in sports benefits women in that female athletes tended to work longer, ask more questions, and attempt to work on non-standard problems. Lastly, subjects reported extreme levels of confidence in mathematics if they were athletes and varying levels of confidence in mathematics for non-athletes.







Thesis (Ph.D.)--American University, 2000.


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