Motivational Mathing

While Vanessa founded The Math Guru to change the world one student at a time, her ultimate dream is to change perceptions of mathematics learning - for everyone! What does that even mean?

As a Masters of Mathematics Education graduate, Vanessa studied the intersection of math education, popular culture, and gender. Research from her thesis, Imagining a World Where Paris Hilton Loves Math has been published globally, and she speaks frequently at conferences and events around the world. 

Her work has been synthesized into an innovative and eye opening presentation which sparks the interest of academics, teachers, parents and students alike. 

Vanessa is an expert on engaging teenagers, especially young women, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. 

previous speaking engagements & Published work

STEMCON 2016 (Ohio, USA)

Think About Math 2013-2016 (University of Waterloo, ON)

Virginia Mathematics Teacher (journal) 2016 (Virginia, US)

Ontario Association of Math Educators 2012-2016 (ON)

LEAP Conference 2016 (McMaster University, ON)

Engineering Outreach Conference 2016 (York University, ON)

Parent STEM Conference 2015 (Toronto, ON)

Discourse, Power, Resistance 2012 & 2013 (University of Greenwich, UK)

Power and Education (journal) 2012 (UK)

Fields Institute 2011 (University of Toronto, ON)


What can you expect when you book Vanessa to speak at your next event? Eye opening ideas that present in both lecture and interaction form. Here are some of the issues she discusses and questions!

What’s the deal? So girls are outperforming boys in math classrooms – that should mean that female enrolment in post-secondary programs requiring math is on the rise. Yet women are disproportionately represented in such programs and what’s more concerning is that despite increasing test scores, young women still profess in large numbers to be BAD at math. 

Why should we care? In a society where technology and the math that underlies it are becoming increasingly important, it is crucial for women to have the same access to the same spectrum of jobs as men do. However, economic power is just as important in every day life as it is in the workplace. Being able to navigate statistics, having the ability to problem solve, and possessing the capacity to think numerically, are essential in day to day decision making. If women opt out of this skill set, we will be left with a society in which we have a disproportionate power distribution amongst genders.

Why aren’t girls choosing math? Once upon a time, we might have accused genetics of ‘making’ boys smarter than girls – well those days are (thankfully) long gone! This presentation explores the force exerting the most influence on teenage students: popular culture and media. Together we will explore how girls connect with the idea of 'being cool,' and how that in turn connects with the idea of 'being a mathematician.' We will explore how confidence in mathematical ability is closely tied to media that tells girls that they can’t possibly be good at math. This presentation is a playful one, surmising how girls might react to mathematics differently if pop culture TREATED mathematics differently. However, while playful, it is based on both extensive literature as well as empirical data. Focusing on girls from Toronto, Ontario, who generally see themselves as part of the mainstream culture, we will speculate as to how these girls understand their relationship to mathematics. Do girls select courses and post-secondary trajectories based on influential media as opposed to course content? If so, what can we do to change the equation?

Less talk, more action! The workshop version of this presentation allows participants to turn theory into practice. In small groups, participants will work together to ‘makeover’ a particular type of popular media that currently discourages girls from pursuing math. Each team will present their mini-project to the group, discussing how their makeover encourages and inspires girls to become math lovers!