Gender Bias On 101questions


Am I imagining it, or are the participants (posters and respondents) mostly male? I’d love to be wrong about this. If I’m not wrong, then why would that be the case? And more importantly, has anyone noticed whether there is there any difference in class participation between female and male students when these are used in class?

I don’t ask for your gender during the registration process so it’s hard for me bring any data to bear on the question. But if I allow myself some conservative guesses, it seems that at the time of this writing:

  1. the top ten most perplexing users are all male,
  2. nine of the top ten most perplexing first acts were uploaded by males.

So help me, I can’t figure out how the interaction on the site (ask a question and click “skip”) or the nature of the tasks (a context and a question) preferences men. The reviews are all blind, too. I’m looking at a photo. Maybe it was uploaded by Candice Director. Or maybe by Dan Anderson. It’s impossible to know until later.

I’m highlighting Elizabeth’s comment to see if anyone can help me figure this out. I’d rather this didn’t turn into a general complaint window, though. I’m interested in locating the source of any gender bias, not in airing out any other grievances.

BTW: My adviser has done a lot of work in gender and math. I should probably check in.

Featured Comment:

Too many. A really great discussion down below. Here’s a link to my summary.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Could it be part of a larger gender bias in math teaching? (I don’t actually know what the numbers are on that … locally and anecdotally it seems to be slightly the case, but not by a 10:1 sort of ratio.)

  2. Actually, I guess one test there would be to see how the top 10 lists compare to the gender split in submissions overall.

  3. Perhaps this comment will sound sexist, but I ask it in all seriousness: are we sure the gender of the uploader matters? My feeling is no.

  4. This is a really good/tough question, and probably one that doesn’t have an easy answer. Having thought about the relationship between power and gender somewhat, I’ll give a stab at some possible answers, and maybe one of these is right, or none of them are.

    1. You should check your blog readership gender ratio. Since you are the primary advertiser of 101questions, it may be that gender bias comes from a disproportional number of male readers for your blog. I’ve often noticed that even in social media, many people tend to favour their own gender (this may not be anything YOU have done at all, I’m speaking primarily of your readers) when making choices about whom to read, and whom to share.

    2. The same effect which reduces the number of women who apply for educational leadership roles may be at fault here. Women make up about 80% of the teaching profession, but less than 20% of the superintendents across the nation. This is due to a few complicated reasons (tall people tend to be favoured toward leadership positions, and women tend to be culturally conditioned not to toot their own horn as much as men). The tooting one’s own horn may be the issue here, as the competitive nature of the rankings in 101questions may produce a bias against female participation. Obviously there are lots of women who are perfectly comfortable with competition, and showing off to other people, but by and large, men are more comfortable doing this (I’ve read research on this at one point) than are women. That’s a cultural issue, not a biological one.

    3. The collaborative efforts of 101questions are hard to see. We are essentially collaborating to produce a set of excellent resources by competing with each other for limited attention. This is a stereotypically male thing to want to do, and comes up over and over again in classroom dynamics even.

    4. It may be a combination of factors, some of which you have control over, and some of which you do not.

  5. Why not write a couple lines of code that checks the names of your users against these male/female name lists?

    It could give us something to talk about when we talk about the gender breakdown of users.

  6. I can only speak to what I know and everything else is speculation.

    Having used with my students, the biggest fan of the site is a female 8th grader. She loved the site so much she created an account and uploaded a video. Her and I constantly talk about it. We’re in DC right now and she mentioned to me today how much she enjoys the site. She has expressed interest in film and wants to study it, with her goal being Stanford (she did get excited to hear that Dan was currently doing some school work there) and USC a close second.
    She told me she’s hooked on She mentions ideas for me to upload. It’s a connection with a student I would have never imagined, but now thoroughly enjoy all because of Dan’s site.

    I don’t know if this answers any of your questions or shares insight. Yes, I have boys who enjoy 101qs, but it’s not the same. I wish there were more females participating on 101qs. My favorite math teacher was female. The site is still primitive. I think it’s making connections with teachers (even if the majority are male) and even connections with students. It’s creating discussion. This post itself is creating discussion about how to better balance the scales of math and gender-based interest; a product based on subjective enthusiasm.

    Personally, I would love to see more females contributing. I especially would love females to share ideas that they can relate with so I can better connect with my female students. It’s more challenging for me to know the interests of my female students. It’s easier for me to think like a middle school boy (sadly). I need that female perspective. More female teachers would help bridge that gap for me. Karim from Mathalicious reminded me tonight that a lot of video gamers are female. That’s a great starting point, but I need more. We need more.

    I think the best advertisement for female teachers are the current female teachers using Get them to talk, email, tweet, and post about to their female colleagues and friends. Guys, we can do the same!

  7. Hi Dan,

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers for you, but if you do find a clear, identifiable source of gender bias, I’d really appreciate it if you could share what it was as well as how you found it.

    Why I mention this: I’m currently scoping out a research project to (possibly) look at ways of evaluating (and thus correcting for) gender bias in user interfaces, websites, etc. during early stage design. Your experience would be valuable as a data point/case study.

  8. I’m not trying to speak for all women, but this woman finds the explanation in comment #4 to resonate with me. I tend to read the 101q site rather than post on it, in part because I’m not into the competitive side of it. I am entertained by what is there and curious about other potential questions, though.

  9. The competition thing is maybe a reason. In general teachers can be squirrelly about the idea of other teachers judging their work.

    I haven’t been able to spend much time on the site but I don’t think anything gender related is keeping me away. It’s first that the format seems to lend itself to middle school concepts and peak at Algebra 1. Not that it’s impossible to ask questions getting at higher order concepts this way (I can see the potential for some killer calculus material) but I think it’s more of a challenge so there’s way less available at least currently. And second that it’s just busy during the school year, so if I’m going to do extra thinking about math or teaching it has to have a big payoff without me having to put in muchas horas. To actually use a 101qs artifact I liked in a lesson – not that I’m not willing to put in the time in planning, obviously, but it would have to be compellingly superior to whatever else I had planned, and by this point I have pretty good stuff.

  10. WRT Josh g (#1): I work in (math) teacher prep. Locally, there are more women going into (and who are employed in) math teaching than men at all levels.

    To follow-up on #4… There’s some data to support the claim that males do group, although it could also be an artifact of the data-collection techniques.

    Why not post a nice short quiz as an intro-screen for 2 days?

    1) How often do you check 101qs?
    2) How often do you post a first act?
    3) How often do you respond to a first act?
    4) What’s your gender?
    5) What’s your approximate age?

    *My guess would be that there’s also an age-bias that’s not reflective of the broader collection of (secondary) math teachers.

  11. Without trying to oversimplify the issue, I wouldn’t expect it to be any more sinister than the male prevalence in technology. Which, of course, you could argue about how sinister THAT is. From being a blog reader, to a blog poster, to a math geek, to a tecky math geek, I would imagine all of those skew male. An each one is gating to being a 101qs poster.


  12. I second Greg. While the teaching profession definitely skews female, and math teaching is more ambiguous, I would bet the blog-reading population of math teachers skews rather heavily male.

  13. Comments 4, 8, and 9 match how I feel about it (especially the “males competing for limited attention” bit), and I’m a female physics and math teacher. I like visiting the site and viewing the pics/vids, but I rapidly get bored (and occasionally even annoyed) reading the questions/comments posted by others (and that in turn makes me less likely to visit the site). And I have ZERO interest in adding my own question/comment to the list; once I think about it, I’m done, and odds are someone has already posted something that matches my thoughts anyway. I’m much more interested in hearing what my STUDENTS will ask about the pics/vids, and also more interested in looking for my own examples that will be relevant to my own classes and students. For me, the site represents a great idea that was initially an eye-opener, but its usefulness is now past, except for the very occasional check-in to see if anybody has posted something I can use (to save myself some work, instead of coming up with something myself) (but coming up with something myself is much more fun).

  14. I am a woman, a subscriber and occasional commenter of Dan’s blog (and others), have enjoyed participating with 101qs, and have taken students there as well.

    I have never uploaded to 101qs. After my initial excitement about 101qs, my participation died out and I began only looking at the ones Dan highlights on his blog. I am coming to the end of my first year of teaching and my feeling is that in my current situation, uploading to 101qs is not the right use of my time. It just hasn’t made it through the beneficial activities triage. The good news is that I am engaging in other beneficial activities; the bad news is that I am not contributing to a better gender balance on 101qs.

    @Andrew Stadel Thanks for your interest in female contributions, especially contributions that may resonate with other females. Of all the ideas offered here, this is the one that makes me most want to upload to 101qs. In an environment that is initially dominated by men, I am inclined to assume that a female’s contribution will only be appreciated if it exactly matches the “male contribution,” that if my submission is noticeably different, it will be instantly sidelined for being off target, rather than being attended to as a meaningful broadening of the view.

  15. Marcie Shea

    May 23, 2012 - 6:47 am -

    What ever happened with the data you collected on gender and problem solving at the end of last year? With the four different problems?

  16. I teach mathematics and science methods for secondary teachers.
    This site is an inspiration for all my students. I have many more female students and some of the posting’s find there way into our Research Lessons during lesson study.
    We feel we are still learning about our student’s learning. That is our job.
    Posts will come in the future. I am quite certain of that.

  17. You could set up a SurveyMonkey survey, or something similar, to find the ratio of male to female users for 101qs. That would let you know the probability of the top spots being all male.

  18. I have no input on this except that I am fascinated that it was posted on the same day that I was also contemplating the lists of names and wondering why so many sounded male. Why did I suddenly notice it?

  19. Is there something about Dan, Dan’s work, Dan’s presentation style, writing style, thinking, etc., that is essentially “male”? Essentially off-putting to women? Essentially sexist? If so, I’ve yet to notice (but then I am, sad to say, burdened with being a man and hence hopelessly insensitive).

    Somewhere in the list of questions and observations raised by Elizabeth is the germ of one that might be worth researching, on my view: is there an indication that, controlling for basic differences in self-assessed interest and ‘success’ in mathematics, female STUDENTS are less inclined to find 101qs useful, inviting, accessible, and so forth?

  20. I know that in a very different context – sexual – men are more oriented to the visual than women. I don’t know if that would carry over to something like this.

    I personally have very little interest in this. I went and looked and posted a few questions, but it didn’t grab me. Is that perhaps connected to women being less grabbed by visual input? I don’t know.

    Also, I want to make videos of a few lessons, but have not gotten myself to do that yet. The technology is intimidating to me. I write a blog. I’m putting together a book. I am not intimidated by math. I am assertive when it matters to me. But I feel like I’m a slow learner with technology. Gendered? If so, then I would bet it’s a cultural construct.

    To those who think more men blog about math: You may be right, but I have plenty of women on my list, and they’re great. (Maybe I can post a list next week.) What I have noticed is that more high school math teachers and fewer college math teachers are blogging.

    Thanks, Dan, for reposting Elizabeth’s comment, and thanks, Elizabeth, for bringing it up.

  21. And Taylor, yes, it is a part of sexism to think it doesn’t matter.

    There are fewer women than men in math and that does matter, greatly. So any shiny new idea to promote math is problematic if it attracts men way more than women.

  22. I’m a first year female math and physics teacher, and I read lots of math and science teaching blogs because they give me great food for thought and inspiration to be a better teacher. Doing more than passively checking out 101qs a few times has not reached the top of my attention triage in a year which has included putting together two new courses, writing curriculum for two IB classes I’ll teach in two years, preparing for maternity leave, and learning how to take care of a newborn.

    I wonder to what extent other women teachers find themselves with relatively more (compared to male teaches) in-school and family commitments that suck up the time and creative focus that would be needed to participate more fully in 101qs?

  23. Gilbert Bernstein

    May 23, 2012 - 10:41 am -

    You probably have multiple populations on 101qs. I’m sure not everyone participating is a teacher (or a student). On top of that, you probably have different demographics for posters/active participants vs. lurkers.

    To riff on other comments, you could have gender bias due to an additional demographic of non-teacher techies. And these people (who aren’t teaching day in/out) could find more time to post on 101qs. That could be a total horseshit hypothesis, but maybe worth keeping in mind if you survey.

  24. Submitting to to 101qs requires you to be okay with the following facts:

    1. You are asking to be judged publicly.
    2. You might be so boring that people just skip over you.
    3. You will become aware of your lineal standing re how interesting you are compared to everybody else.
    4. You will be subjected to a second round of judgment w/r/t #3, possibly on Dan’s very popular blog.
    5. None of this will be anonymous, so it will feel intensely personal.

    After a divorce and two failed co-habitations, I might not be an expert, but that doesn’t sound like the dream environment for many women I know.

  25. Johanna Langill

    May 23, 2012 - 11:19 am -

    I don’t think there is a fundamental flaw in the design of the website, though I found comments #4 and #11 especially thought-provoking.

    A few weeks ago I went through your “faculty lounge” section and subscribed to the rss feed from nearly everyone. When I did, I noticed that almost everyone was male. I wondered why that is and how you found each other. Are guys actually 89% of the educators blogging (or at least the interesting ones) and how can I find more female teachers who are doing interesting things? I’ve always liked ‘hanging out with the guys’ and have no problem learning from them, but there could be a whole part of the spectrum that I am missing out on.

    I don’t fault you, think that you’re knowingly or unknowingly sexist or anything. I’m thrilled that you’ve done the grunt work of finding some awesome blogs. But my guess is that your faculty lounge have spent the longest time looking at and for these types of interesting problems, that they already have the tech savvy and experience to post to 101qs, and are probably the most active promoters of your site. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the bulk of your contributions do come from males, I wonder what other characteristics they have in common- are the most prolific or perplexing contributors single/young married? How long have they been teaching? My guess is that in many ways they fit the profile of the typical contributor on wikipedia, which has gender-balance issues as well.

    As for the competition- I’m a bit bummed at my perplexity score, though I find the questions that people do leave on my (only 2) contributions so far interesting. Not everyone is coming up with the same question, and most people are skipping them. But the questions that I do get are opening up avenues that I didn’t know I could explore. It reminds me of one of your recent posts, talking about expecting students to come up with the question, vs. thinking as soon as you propose it, “Oh, yeah, of course you could ask that question. I wonder what the answer is” and ideally also be somewhere close forming an opinion/guess about what the answer might be. That’s my feeling when I read these questions.

    I’m not interested in repeating the same questions and situations that have already been done so well, unless I find something that I really think does it better/is just fascinating. I don’t want to upload a shorter version of my dive video, for instance, because I feel like that would be too redundant.

  26. @Johanna: I found your comment about Dan’s “faculty lounge” interesting. I usually don’t go through the regular site since I mainly just read on my rss feed, but you’re absolutely right–there are far more men listed on the blogroll than women. And I know it’s not for lack of good female bloggers. There are a great many wonderful women out there blogging away (many of whom I know Dan reads, since he refers to their work from time to time). Maybe it’s time for an update, Dan?

    Which brings me to @Sue–I am eagerly awaiting your list of female bloggers! Please share it with us soon.

  27. I find it really interesting that few responders mentioned the million other things that have to be done near the end of the school year. I think there might be something to how people look at these other things needing to be done…
    I was pleased to find not one but two female first-year math and physics teachers among the commenters! One of them mentioned the greater importance of other things… Pleased, because I am old enough to have been told, when I was looking for a job, that women could not teach physics. There has been a lot of physics in my math classes over the years…
    I love the photos and the questions and the whole idea of another way to think about math teaching. I am also a very visual person — graphs come first when studying almost any mathematical relationship. So why am I not posting? Because every time I start looking and thinking about possibilities, that little voice reminds me that there are other things whose deadlines are closer. Is that gender oriented?

  28. I counted responders – 85-95% male by gender-biased names. I would not have noticed (Physics training, I guess).
    I still say that Dan’s work is “applied math,” which I would argue is supported by the number of math/physics women responding here. I work in a secondary school with all female math teachers, and the rest are not interested in “real world” applications, they prefer pure math, whereas I would rather teach geometry or have the class do Barbie Bungee. Given the practical applications bias of common core, I await the impact with eager anticipation :-)

  29. Johanna Langill

    May 23, 2012 - 5:12 pm -

    @Nathan Did the students’ perplexity scoring of the items correlate with their site score? I think that may be a next step in inquiry with 101qs- are perplexity and the obviousness of a question two different things? I’m not sure if I interact with the site in the same way. Sometimes I’ve got my student hat on, sometimes I’m just a nerd, sometimes I’m thinking like a teacher, sometimes I’m just looking for something new and awesome, sometimes I’m proud that I can figure out what the question was supposed to be, sometimes I want to skip it because it was too obvious.

    @Sue anecdotal evidence here- but I’m female and incredibly engaged by visual stimuli. And I think that the point of 3-act problems is that behind these pictures lies a story, an event, humans acting (covering a file cabinet with post-its, running in circles in the house, building domino spirals, flying over the US). I do want to know why women seem to be participating less or their contributions aren’t having the same impact. I don’t know if it comes from the audience or the contributors, or both.

    I’m starting to wish for a place (maybe a link to another site?) where we can start conversations about these pieces. I wonder if that would lead to another score, maybe called “teacher perplexity” or “engagement” score (how many comments teachers make on a topic perhaps correlating with how likely they are to actually use it in a classroom/how much it inspires them with extensions, how much effort they’re willing to put into making it work, how thought-provoking it is…). But I guess I’m pretty pragmatic, and if I see something I can use, I’d email the person who submitted it to ask if they had a 3rd act.

  30. Johanna Langill

    May 23, 2012 - 5:16 pm -

    @Breedeen Could you give me some names/links? I’d love to add them to my reader. You’re already there, of course. :)

  31. Zachary Clifton

    May 23, 2012 - 5:54 pm -

    A few ideas from my game design life come to mind. Arcade games are made and are known to be very male-centric. 101 questions is very much designed like an arcade game. As soon as you enter you are in the game. There are minimal buttons with little explanation of what they do. Moreover, the pictures are generally confusing ( or perplexing to keep with your language).

    Most of the time in an arcade if you see a parent give a daughter and son some money for the arcade, the boy will rush to the very first flashy game he sees put in a quarter and die in less than a minute. The girl will walk around, look at several of the games, and then go outside and talk on her phone.

    I don’t know why this is. But I do know that this is known(or at least strongly believed) and marketed for arcade games. It doesn’t take much to verify it either. Console games are male-centric but nothing like arcade games are. After all, arcades make their money by have more and more quarters pumped in. There is even a talk (I believe from Stanford) on iTunesU on this very situation that is stated much clearer than I will be able to do. Although, I unfortunately am having a VERY difficult time finding it.

    Translate this to 101qs. I already mentioned a few arcade design parallels. And I will mention, I was confused and hesitant to hit some of the buttons. Sometimes, I just want to look at the pictures. If I skip a question does that mean I found the picture perplexing? I didn’t, but I don’t want to see stuff in a random order. At that point I quit. Or on a few occasions, I just pressed the skip it, I’m bored button several times to cycle through and play with the site. And when I did that I got a feeling remarkably similar to jumping over an anthropomorphic flame in donkey kong. That little boy inside me just wanted to press buttons. I would expect that the most perplexed users are males pressing buttons to see the next flashy picture.

    I’m sure all of this is wrong. But the exact same thoughts were floating through my mind when using the site a few weeks back. Initially, I would add a “free view” button or gallery (I know you want data but this might help the bias). And maybe a quick blurb on what the site is. If I found the site randomly and and did not follow from this blog. I would be lost, click the back button, and wonder why that site came up on my google search. The few button design, no instructions, and placed right in the middle of the game is the exact design companies use to make arcade games they know will only market themselves to boys.

  32. I just want to clarify I’m not complaining at all about 101qs. It’s awesome, and I think I understand why it’s constructed the way it is. I really do appreciate the simplicity. It just opens up all these other wishes and speculations of what might happen later/next.

  33. I am still not convinced it matters. Gender would matter if we were looking at the responders and the responders were not teachers and adults, but in fact students, and there was a noticeable disparity where male students were far more interested in the medium than female students were. Obviously we would not want to adopt a teaching strategy that heavily favored male learners over female ones. But if its simply a matter of who is making interesting submissions, I don’t think it matters.

    If for some strange reason, this teaching strategy appeals more to male teachers than female teachers, but both male and female students responded to it equally, then why in the world would it matter? Our focus in this context is on the students, not the teachers. Suppose no female teacher had ever used the strategy, but male teachers used it with great success. Would we tell those male teachers to abandon effective pedagogy in the name of anti-sexism and fairness?

    Because of the way 101qs is set up with random questions and no names attached to 1st Acts, I am inclined to say that it has pretty good protection from both intentional and unintentional sexism on the part of the responders. I would guess the disparity in the top ten is due to the ratio of male submitted 1st Acts to female submitted ones. I have no idea what those numbers are, but it sounds like there are a lot more males submitting.

  34. Interesting question!

    I think much of the 101qs content is appropriate for secondary mathematics, grades 7 – 12 here in Alberta. I would guess that, at junior high and high school levels, there are probably more men teaching mathematics than women so that could be a contributing factor. I have been trying to take this process to a younger audience and the elementary teachers, more women, seem to connect with the 101qs idea as well. Hope it takes off there.

    I also wonder whether there are more males comfortable with video and photo editing than females. Is there a gender difference between people who are confident in their tech abilities and/or people who will persevere through obstacles to create and post something to 101qs?

  35. I appreciate the thoughtful commentary. It’s weird, frankly, to find an Internet-based discussion of sexism and gender that didn’t spin out of control right after it started.

    A couple of things I’d like to dig into:

    1. The evaluative & competitive aspects of 101questions. (Raised by David Wees, Amanda Jensen, Kate Nowak, Chris Lusto, Johanna Langill & others.)

    Re “competitive”:

    I debated implementing the top ten list for a lot of different reasons. Those metrics can easily get gamed, misdirect a site’s focus, shut down participation, and suck up any intrinsic energy around a task. I wrote all those debits on a ledger and still thought it was a good idea a) to offer some exemplars to new users and b) to give people a way to find perplexing productions and perplexing producers. I didn’t anticipate that might also diminish the site’s appeal to women. Given the goals of the top ten lists, does anybody have any suggestions?

    Re “evaluative”:

    I’m struggling with this one. I mean, our students evaluate our work all the time, often negatively. They often disapprove of our efforts. They’re often bored. I would so much rather get some sense of that feedback from the safety of my barcalounger with my iPad in hand than after I introduced a task my students found uninteresting or unclear.

    It doesn’t seem like the job allows us to be uncomfortable with evaluation. Everybody is evaluating us. Those evaluations are mostly summative. I like 101questions because it gives me some rare formative feedback.

    2. The gender balance in math teaching, in the edublogosphere, on this blog, on 101questions as a whole. (Raised by josh g., David Wees, Timfc & others.)

    Like I said, I don’t ask for gender information on registration to 101questions or on subscription to this blog. But I sent Michael Pershan a list of the first names from the 101questions roster. He ran them against a list of baby names and genders and found:

    People who have registered: 57% male / 43% female.
    People who have uploaded anything: 75% male / 25% female.
    People on the top ten list: 90% male / 10% female.

    So … that’s interesting.

    (Many thanks, Michael.)

    3. The prominence of males in tech fields. (Raised by Greg, Cathy, and suggested by my adviser, among others.)

    It’s true that participation on 101questions requires some technical proficiency. It’s needlessly complex in some ways. For instance, you can’t upload a photo directly to the site (right now). You have to find some third-party site to host it for you – like Flickr or ImageShack or something. (Cathy knows what I’m talking about.) That will change, but uploading, rating, and teaching with multimedia is necessarily technical. I can’t fix that.

    Marcie Shea

    What ever happened with the data you collected on gender and problem solving at the end of last year? With the four different problems?

    (Marcie is talking about this project.)

    I’m halfway through coding. Gender isn’t one of those codes, though.

    Johanna Langill:

    I’m starting to wish for a place (maybe a link to another site?) where we can start conversations about these pieces.

    Each first act will have a comments section within a few months. I’ll be adding support for second and third acts somewhere after that. Other suggestions for supporting collaborations?

  36. Each first act has a contributor attached, right? Is there any way you could see what percentage of first acts have been uploaded by each gender? I’m still wondering if the proportions of overall submissions to “successes” is similar. Then we know if the question is why are women scoring lower on perplexity, or if it is why aren’t women participating in this particular activity as much as men?

    I am super excited to see hear about the coming comments section and even more excited about 2nd and 3rd acts. I guess after lobbying for it I’ll really have to follow through and participate. :)

  37. Johanna:

    Each first act has a contributor attached, right? Is there any way you could see what percentage of first acts have been uploaded by each gender?

    Right, that’s the middle stat, “People who have uploaded anything: 75% male / 25% female.”

    “Anything” here refers to first acts, not questions or skips, if that clarifies the matter.

  38. Ah, I thought this referred to the percentage of people who had uploaded something, without considering how much they had contributed.

  39. Count me as one of the women who doesn’t participate because of time and technical horsing-around. I have the knowledge, but tech stuff always seems to run into snags and take forever.

    However, I eagerly await the addition of second and third acts. That will get me using the site more, because I LOVE math applications, and don’t come up with enough on my own.

  40. I think that a place to start conversations would make it more collaborate to balance out the competitive. That would be really interesting!

    Also, I had an idea — I do think that top 10 lists are a good way to help people start to investigate the site. Adding additional top 10s would reduce the competitive side, I think, such as 10 top new posts.

    I think if the competitive side is balanced by these other components, more people might find more ways to engage and participate because there will be more options of ways to enter in and participate.

    Just something to consider.

  41. Would having the Top 10 list, but without the scores and listed in a random order, help remove the competitive nature? I mean, I guess they could still see the scores once they click through, but it won’t be so easy to say “Oh, I’m on top!”

  42. “Each first act will have a comments section within a few months. I’ll be adding support for second and third acts somewhere after that. Other suggestions for supporting collaborations?”

    A wiki! *duck*

    I like what Amanda said about more points of entry and ways to explore what’s in there. And share Johanna’s excitement about comments sections.

    I found Zachary’s observations about how boys vs girls interact with arcade games really interesting. I’m a “push all the buttons and see what they do!” kid from way back but was very aware that that was atypical girl behavior. But that’s how you get to a place where you can get computers to do what you want them to do.

  43. @Taylor (#3 and 35): Imagine an alternate universe, identical in every way to ours, except that whatever factors cause the 75/25 uploading split and 90/10 top ten split in our universe, do not exist. In that universe, there is a 50/50 uploading split because everyone is still participating that is participating in our world, but also 200% more women. In that universe, there are 50% more submissions for us to look at. In our universe, those submissions, for some reason, are stuck in lady teachers’ brains or cameras or hard drives. We are missing out!

  44. Today I participated in a Twitter edchat that asked why there were so few male elementary teachers.

    I think elementary school teacher populations are female-heavy and secondary math teacher populations are male-heavy.

    I follow this blog and try to apply the concepts to my upper elementary classroom. So, I am one woman who can’t comment much because I’m trying to adapt the information to an elementary context :).

  45. Ahh, Jachary’s comment helps me see the big picture here more clearly. Thanks!

    @Bree and Johanna: I’m working on a list now. I’m supposed to be working on my book right now, but gender issues are something I had trouble writing about, so I’ll count this discussion as a gift.

  46. I have been using 101Questions to try to help me students get more confident in asking math questions of the world around them. I have had great participation from both male and female students. The more I do it the higher percentage I get of all students asking questions. It has been a very exciting process.

  47. I’m intrigued by these comments and this conversation, and thought I’d add another female voice to the mix, and try to contribute a perspective I don’t think I’ve seen yet. I haven’t even gone to the trouble of subscribing to 101qs, even though I probably visit the site 3-4 times a week and click through 5-10 acts just to see what’s there. If I had to explain why, I’d probably say there’s a selfish desire to satisfy my curiosity without really putting anything back into the community. We’re not even talking about uploading here– just subscribing so my participation and questions are on the record.

    I do like pressing buttons and exploring, so it’s not the lack of instructions that bothers me. But I strongly dislike competitions and ranking systems. That could be disinterest in other people’s opinions, or just plain insecurity. It’s not just about being seen though– I loved being observed when I was still in the classroom– so I think what’s at play is that if I’m going to put myself out there on something I’m not yet sure I’m good at (or good enough at), I’d like some real feedback about how to get better. While Dan’s comment in #37 says 101qs is set up to be a form of formative feedback, I think the type of formative feedback I’d want is something that leaves me feeling less “nope, didn’t get the reaction I wanted” and more “hmm, I think I have hints about how to improve this.”

    If I submit something, I probably won’t be confident that it’ll be great. But at the same time, if I knew how to make it better, I would have. And since I didn’t, I probably don’t know. So the formative feedback I would find useful isn’t just you agreeing that my work is or isn’t good, but rather suggestions on how to improve. Maybe that’s where the comments section will come in :)

  48. I’m having a little trouble with the comment
    “I’m struggling with this one. I mean, our students evaluate our work all the time, often negatively. They often disapprove of our efforts. They’re often bored. I would so much rather get some sense of that feedback from the safety of my barcalounger with my iPad in hand than after I introduced a task my students found uninteresting or unclear.

    It doesn’t seem like the job allows us to be uncomfortable with evaluation. Everybody is evaluating us. Those evaluations are mostly summative. I like 101questions because it gives me some rare formative feedback.”

    There is a huge difference between evaluations by students, with whom you’ve established a long-term relationship and who have relatively little power, and evaluation by peers and supervisors, whose opinions are more likely to have long-term impacts on your career and self-esteem. I can easily understand being willing to try something in class but not put it out for other teachers to mock. (I know that 101qs is not set up in a way that encourages or invites mockery, but try telling that to people’s inner censors.)

  49. Amanda Jensen:

    Also, I had an idea – I do think that top 10 lists are a good way to help people start to investigate the site. Adding additional top 10s would reduce the competitive side, I think, such as 10 top new posts.

    I’m curious if that will allay the concerns around competition or just open up a new front for more competition. Either way, 101questions v0.3 will have a “right now” option next to “all time,” which will show you the most perplexing first acts that have just been uploaded.

    James Cleveland:

    Would having the Top 10 list, but without the scores and listed in a random order, help remove the competitive nature? I mean, I guess they could still see the scores once they click through, but it won’t be so easy to say “Oh, I’m on top!”

    Yeah, I don’t know. It seems like people care more whether they’re on the list or not, not about their relative ranking on the top ten.

    Sue Van Hattum:

    I’m looking forward to hearing your advisor’s thoughts on this.

    She suggested the male dominance of tech fields was a possible explanation.


    There is a huge difference between evaluations by students, with whom you’ve established a long-term relationship and who have relatively little power, and evaluation by peers and supervisors, whose opinions are more likely to have long-term impacts on your career and self-esteem.

    There is a huge difference. When students experience my boring tasks, they stop liking math. When my peers experience my boring tasks, nothing happens to my students. That’s the difference that matters to me. If someone is concerned about the effect of their 101questions perplexity ranking on their career or tenure (which, I mean, I kid myself that the site matters that much to anybody) they’re more than welcome to set up a pseudonym. Which should go without saying in your case, right.

  50. mr bombastic

    May 25, 2012 - 12:43 pm -

    It is a very small subset of math teachers that are interested in participating in something like 101Q. If this same small sliver is representative of those playing more active leadership roles, etc. in their department, then I think we have an issue. Otherwise, who cares what the gender distribution is for this or any other tiny subculture in the math teaching profession.

    The M/F split is nearly even for high performing students – those taking AP Calculus or those scoring 600+ on the SAT. I would be concerned if the split was not fairly even.

    The M/F split for the small sliver of students scoring at the highest level on math tests is heavily skewed male: 2 to 1 for 800’s on the SAT, and as much as 10 to 1 or more for the AMC top performers (writing is skewed female). This difference, by itself, just doesn’t seem like much cause for concern.

  51. mr bombastic:

    Otherwise, who cares what the gender distribution is for this or any other tiny subculture in the math teaching profession.

    Elizabeth first. Me second. Then other people after that.

  52. I’m a woman who’s spent A LOT of time in masculine-dominated activities and environments, and I have to agree with Mr. Bombastic that this doesn’t seem like a major issue to me. As far as gender differences/difficulties, I’ve had so much bigger problems than a simple imbalance of interest, that this is trivial by comparison.

    As somebody said above, engaging all the students is the important thing — but if you think of us as Dan’s students, does it matter if we engage in different ways? Some write, some make videos, some mostly lurk but then use the ideas in their work. If we learn how to improve our students’ learning, that’s the bottom line, right?

  53. Zachary Clifton

    May 25, 2012 - 6:33 pm -

    @Mr. Bombastic and Kelly
    “As far as gender differences/difficulties, I’ve had so much bigger problems than a simple imbalance of interest”

    “engaging all the students is the important thing”

    I do not fully understand how interest and engagement are discrete entities. If there is a problem in interest, I would wager there is a problem in engagement.

  54. Sorry, let me clarify — I used interest and engagement in two different places, with different scope.

    Everybody who’s participating in any way is engaged. (in the subject) But our interests vary by topic. We’re all interested in different aspects of the subject, and we accomplish the goal of improving our students’ learning in a variety of ways. For example, although I’m not participating in 101qs, I’m reading and commenting on the blog.

    I hope that makes more sense.

  55. Zachary Clifton

    May 25, 2012 - 8:13 pm -


    That does make more sense. Thanks! Knowing that maybe these points will help explain why this is a big deal.

    Math is a subject of which women are underrepresented. If we see any type of gender bias in something that is a subset of math instruction, we would be doing a disservice by not looking into it. Girls do not have a problem learning math compared to men. From most studies and experience, it seems to be the opposite. But men are much more likely to select a math related major in college than women. Math loses a gender somewhere.

    I think the reason why myself and others find this bias interesting and something that would need to be fixed is because 101qs is a sort of microcosm for the classroom. If there is a bias, as an educator I would like to know why and how it could be fixed. While it is true that everyone has different interests. After all, a room of 30 students will have at minimum 30 different learning styles. I do not have the luxury of a small tutoring environment. I know 100% will not be fully engaged. However, if ~50% of my students are disengaged, that is too much.

    Now the exciting part. The classroom is a noisy place for data collection. 101qs is a simpler system with far fewer variables measuring perplexity/interest/engagement. This type of system is much more likely to identify gender bias and its solution than a classroom.

  56. Okay I get what you’re saying, but math interest *generally* wasn’t my point. It was interest in different ways of interacting with math.

    To apply my analogy of Dan’s blog as a classroom, him as teacher, and all of us as students: Suppose you have a math classroom, and suppose you, like Shawn Cornally, allow students to demonstrate their understanding in whatever way they choose. Suppose the boys tend to like making videos, while the girls tend to prefer writing about math concepts on their blogs. As long as they’re all engaged, does it matter how they show what they’ve learned?

    The things that frustrate me in masculine-dominated environments are completely non-existent on 101qs. Even the competition aspect of the top 10 is minimal intensity. My guess is that the gender imbalance has a lot to do with comment #11.

  57. On second thought, also the lack of conversation/interaction about each submission on 101qs, as somebody mentioned above. Any conversation happens here on the blog, and only for a small subset of the uploads.

  58. “Math is a subject of which women are underrepresented.”

    Is this still true? It certainly was true 40 years ago when I was a college undergrad, but the only recent figures I’ve seen (which were for only one college) showed that math had gender parity up to the bachelor’s degree (unlike the engineering fields, where gender parity peaked about 15-20 years ago and the imbalance is now back to levels not seen seen the 1960s). I did a quick Google search for a larger sample of data, but did not find one in the 3 minutes I was willing to devote to the search.

    Women are certainly underrepresented in the physical sciences and engineering, which may be due to math instruction in secondary school, but I’d like to see some hard data for math still being a field in which women are underrepresented–can any one point me to the data?

  59. Wow! Thanks for highlighting my questions and promoting an interesting and respectful discussion.

    I don’t think I can add anything, but these comments especially resonated: David Wees (#4), Andrew Stadel (#6), Chris Lusto (#25), Johanna Langill (#26), and Grace (#51), and I love love love the comment from Kate Nowak (#45) about what we are missing in our current universe. And thanks, Dan, for your response in #57. Frankly, I hesitated to raise the issue in the first place, but this thread made my day.