The math T-shirts by #MathGals aka elementary school math specialist Chrissy Newell make math a whole lot of fun! Chrissy shares her love of numbers and how her #MathGals math T-shirts are supporting women and girls in mathematics.
Chrissy (or Mrs. Newell as her students call her) is not your average math teacher. This California mom has been making waves with her #MathGals movement. She runs her Spreadshop with the help of her 9-year-old daughter Cora. Their T-shirts feature the names of female mathematicians— and not just the famous ones. Her project is interactive: “Math Gals” of any age can be featured to get their name listed on a T-shirt along with other brainy babes! Uplifting, empowering, and feminist: June’s Shop of the Month.
— Chrissy Newell (@MrsNewell22) May 17, 2019
We asked Chrissy to share more about why it’s so important to encourage more girl power in the world of mathematics.
You must really love math. What do you love about it? When did your math T-shirts love story start?
I absolutely do love math! I love both teaching it and learning it. What I love about math is how flexible and creative it is and how it helps us make sense of our world. I have always liked math and had a positive relationship with it, but I think I started truly loving it about 5 years ago when I became an elementary math specialist. I get to witness a-ha moments from not just students, but teachers as well. I also get to work with an amazing team of powerful women who share my love for math.
So, tell us about #MathGals… what is your math T-shirts about?
The first goal of the #MathGals project, and the reason we started it in the first place, is to get the names of amazing female mathematicians out into the world. It’s about building awareness and piquing interest. We hoped the shirts would start conversations, and that’s exactly what they have done!
The second goal is to help girls and women see themselves as mathematicians. There is a stereotype that boys are naturally better at math than girls, that boys somehow have a “math brain” and girls do not. Although we know that this is not true, that stereotype is still reinforced by messages girls receive in their environments, at home and at school. Those messages lead girls to feel like they don’t belong in mathematics. The truth is, we need girls to love math and to know that they belong so they are not limited in their future interests and careers.
What inspired you to start #MathGals?
#MathGals started in the summer of 2018 when my daughter, Cora, and I were reading the book Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics by Dr. Talithia Williams. The book shares the stories of women who have made an impact in the field of mathematics. As Cora was learning about these women, she decided that more people needed to know their stories. Even as a professional in the mathematics field, I hadn’t heard most of the stories either!
We decided that a shirt with the names of some of these women on it would help us start to share the stories, and #MathGals was born. We initially designed the shirts just for us, but the response was incredible – people immediately wanted to know how they could get one.
Why do you think it’s important to shine a spotlight on women in mathematics?
Women have been doing math just as long as men—but have historically been under-recognized for their accomplishments. One of the reasons we put first names on the shirts was because we wanted to acknowledge that many women had to study and publish mathematical learnings under the guise of a man’s name. The spotlight is long overdue.
We have female mathematicians to thank for things like the launch of the field of computer science (Thank you, Ada Lovelace!), the success of the first manned spaceflight (Thank you, Katherine Johnson!), and the technology behind GPS (Thank you, Gladys West!).
We need to say their names, tell their stories, and identify ourselves as mathematicians, too. We also need to recognize that although women are entering STEM majors at higher rates than ever before, we still have work to do in ensuring that they are treated like they belong once they are there.
Where do you hope this project will lead? What are your goals for #MathGals?
We really hope the project will continue to lead people to learn and teach more about the #MathGals! Less than a year since we designed our first t-shirt, people all over the world are sharing the stories of these women, holding events to honor them, and changing girls’ perceptions to see themselves as mathematicians. In the near future we hope to launch a website where we can share resources about the #MathGals and also have a place where students and teachers can share the work they’re doing with the project.
— Chrissy Newell (@MrsNewell22) May 25, 2019
What message are you hoping to spread through your T-shirt designs?
We are ALL mathematicians! Women belong in math. Girls deserve to know that someone that looks like them has made a difference in math, and they can, too!
Which of the #MathGals do you find extra inspiring and why?
Chrissy: So many of the #MathGals’ stories are inspirational, but I have to give a shout-out to Dr. Katie Bouman, who recently made headlines as the computer scientist behind the algorithm that led to the first image of a black hole! The picture she posted of her reaction to the first glimpses of the image are a perfect example of how joyful and exciting math can be!
Cora: I think Sophie Germain’s story is really inspiring because she loved math so much that she did it even when she wasn’t supposed to. Well, I guess a lot of them did, but I really like Sophie’s story.
How has #MathGals connected you within the world of female mathematicians?
People from all over the U.S., Canada & Australia, (and not just women) are wearing these shirts proudly! We have received tons of feedback and thanks for designing them, which is so overwhelming and humbling. The word “mathematician” is often reserved for people who are experts in the field, but the reality is that to be a mathematician, you just have to 1) be a person, and 2) do math! Students, teachers, moms and dads, professors, and professional mathematicians are just some of the people who have embraced #MathGals.
Why did you choose to open a Spreadshop and what are your goals for your shop?
After looking into a few options for starting a t-shirt shop, Spreadshirt stood out as the best choice because it was intuitive to build, easy to run, and had high quality products. Our initial goals were not to make money, but as interest grew, so did our profit. We have been working to give back by sending shirts to teachers and students who are enthusiastically spreading the #MathGals message. Our goals are to eventually expand our merchandise selection and to make it easier to run a “buy one, give one” model.
— Janaki Nagarajan (@janaki_aleena) May 18, 2019
How do you promote your Shop? What has been your biggest challenge so far in running your Shop? Your greatest success?
We mostly promote our shop on Twitter, where there is an amazing community of math educators who learn from each other daily. Social media has been so important in helping us grow. Additionally, I (Chrissy) attend and speak at several math conferences every year where I wear my #MathGals shirt and try to spread the word!
Honestly, running a Spreadshop has been easy! They do all the hard work, from designing the platform to processing and sending orders. I am proud of the product and always confident that my customers can contact Spreadshirt if they have questions or issues. Our greatest success has been surpassing 500 sales. We never dreamed it would grow like this, but we’re so excited for what’s next.
What advice do you have for other Spreadshop owners?
Just go for it! Put yourself and your ideas out there. Use social media to share your products and wear them every day! (Kidding… kind of!) Reach out to Spreadshirt about support you need with your shop – they have an amazing team whose mission is help make your Shop successful.
What about advice for people who hate math?
Most people say they hate math because they had negative experiences learning it in school. If this is the case, my advice is to forget everything you were led to believe math is. Math is more than procedures and formulas, more than tests and numbers and working in isolation – it is creative, flexible and joyful! It turns out that there is no such thing as a math person, and everyone can be good at maths. If you need some playful maths problems to ponder, jump on Twitter and follow the #MTBoS hashtag (Maths Twitter Blog-o-Sphere) for a huge community of maths teachers who can help you love maths as much as they do!