Math anxiety is a real thing. In fact, women struggle with a fear of math more than their male counterparts. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, that fear begins to show up in young girls as early as the second grade. In turn, the urge to avoid numbers often impacts the professional and financial decisions that women make later in life.
To inspire girls to lean into math, Brittany Rhodes, mathematician turned tech founder created Black Girl MATHgic, a monthly subscription box service curated to increase math confidence and decrease math anxiety in girls on a third to eighth-grade math skill level. The company’s mission is to help girls succeed in class today and in society tomorrow.
Solving For America’s Math Anxiety Problem
The Black Girl MATHgic equation to solve for math anxiety is simple:
Math confidence + representation = A girl with options who has the confidence and skill to design the life she wants.
The Detroit-based entrepreneur has always had a can-do attitude about math. She even decided to take on Mathematics as her major at Spelman College. Over the course of 15 years of teaching and tutoring, Rhodes realized that her students needed foundational math help. And, most of the young women who she tutored needed to have their ideas of what problems they were capable of solving change.
“I sought to create a product that addresses many of the phenomena that contribute to low math confidence and high math anxiety. I looked at gaps from a racial perspective. There’s a lot of gaps in terms of access to high quality math education – such as access to algebra one courses – which is the gateway to higher level mathematics and higher-level STEM education,” said Rhodes. As she looked at the gender gap, she realized, “It’s not an achievement gap. It’s not an ability gap. It’s not a performance gap. Boys and girls typically do perform about the same in their math ability in the United States. Confidence is where the gap exists,” she explained.
With an emphasis on uplifting Black girls in math, Rhodes began to expand her research.
“This is a real problem. This is not just something anecdotally that I’m seeing in my community. According to Ed.gov, approximately 93% of American adults experience math anxiety on some level. Then when you look at it from a race and gender perspective, that math anxiety, while it impacts everyone, it has a harsher impact on females and people of color,” said Rhodes.
As a continuation of that research, Rhodes leaned into her network of friends with daughters, educators, and academics who she surveyed to gain more insight. “There are several black women PhDs who have written extensively about Black girls and their math experiences. A lot of the data around STEM education either looks at the race component or the gender component. When I first started my research, there were very few studies that were looking at the intersectionality of what a black girls experience was when met with mathematics,” said Rhodes.
“I wanted to create something where a black girl could very clearly see herself as a learner and doer of math,” she added.
Creating The Formula For Black Girl MATHgic
Having been introduced to a number of subscription services by her husband, Rhodes became curious about that business model. After examining the industry, it became clear to her that creating a subscription box was the solution for girls and their parents.
“I noticed that there were not a lot of math boxes. There were a lot of science and coding boxes, but nobody was really talking about math. That presented an opportunity for me,” said Rhodes.
After months of ideation and strategizing, she decided to give herself the gift of soft launching the subscription service online. And to her surprise, hundreds of people expressed interest in the product and signed up with their emails to learn more while the product was being developed.
While Black Girl MATHgic was in pre-launch, Rhodes continued working towards the goal of creating a viable product. She also worked on her pitch. After perfecting it, she became a finalist at the Michigan Women Forward pitch competition in the ideation category. Winning a cash-prize for her idea, aside from her research, was confirmation that she was on the right journey. “During that time, I also conducted a beta test with 20 families that I built through my email list during the pre-launch. I had about 50 families apply – but I could only pick 25 of them because I was using the grant money,” Rhodes recalled.
Sharpening her skills and conducting market research as she built Black Girl MATHgic positioned Rhodes to win at business.
More recently, Rhodes secured a $5,000 equity-free grant from HBCUvc and PledgeLA. With the grant she plans to invest in a business manager.
A Box Full of Surprises and Promise
Since officially launching in July of 2019, Black Girl MATHgic has helped young girls and boys transform their relationship with math. Each box contains a foundational math lesson, a variety of items to make the lesson engaging and fun, an affirmation to strengthen math confidence, a profile of a black woman mathematician to show representation, and an adult guide to help parents and guardians facilitate the use of the materials.
“My box is entirely screen-free on purpose. You can get this box whether you do or don’t have no computer at home, which a lot of our lot of our children of color do not have adequate and equitable access to technology. The only thing we put online is the answer key because we include a math activity for each month,” which Rhodes said is helpful to parents especially during the pandemic.
To date, Rhodes and her team have shipped over 1,100 boxes to over 30 states within the nation and have begun fulfilling orders throughout Canada. Black Girl MATHgic also has B2B partnerships with various school districts and youth serving organizations.
“I always say, Black girls are not the only people who need to know that Black girls can do math,” said Rhodes.