What makes a “math person”? What is it that causes people to pursue majors and careers in math and other STEM disciplines where mathematics is crucial to success?
The National Science Foundation has recently supported a study by Professor Zahra Hazari at Florida International University’s STEM Transformation Institute. Professor Hazari worked with colleagues at Harvard University and Western Kentucky University to interview over 9000 college students taking calculus.
What they found was that it’s not simply about math competence and confidence. Students reported that they developed interest and positive attitudes toward math, and had received recognition from family, teachers and other students. So they responded positively when asked if they saw themselves as a “math person”.
According to Professor Haazari, “We really have to engage students in more meaningful ways through their own interests and help them overcome challenges and recognize them for doing so. If we want to empower students and provide access to STEM careers, it can’t just be about confidence and performance. Attitudes and personal motivation matters immensely.”
Some recommendations for teachers:
- Have high standards
- Be generous with praise
- Look for ways to connect math to the real world
These are good recommendations for all students in math courses, not just those who end up as “math people”. The point here is that both weaker students and the stronger students benefit from encouragement and engagement.
A blog about the study, including a link to the full report “Establishing an Explanatory Model for Mathematics Identity”, can be found at the NEA Today web site:
Curriki has developed courses in Algebra, Geometry and Calculus for high school students with support from AT&T for the first two and Huawei, for the Calculus course. These adhere to standards, and are project-based, to help make the subjects more relevant to the outside world. You can find those courses here:
Check them out!