Danica McKeller graduated summa cum laude
in mathematics from UCLA…
Before she was co-author of the research that proved the Chayes-McKeller-Winn Theorem, and…
Before she wrote five books about math education,...
McKeller played girl-next-door Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years.
Though no longer a teen star, McKeller has continued her acting career while being a non-stop advocate for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education.
A major part of McKeller's mission is to close the gender gap in STEM fields. Some young women think that working in STEM fields is a guys-only vocation, and McKeller is challenging that view. As McKeller said in a recent interview with the Washington Post, “You don’t have to choose between being the fun, fabulous girl and being the smart girl who knows what’s up, you can do both. That’s my big message.”
You can listen to McKeller discuss her latest book “Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape” in an interview she did with NPR in August.
Just to prove you don't need to choose between math and fun, McKeller is still active in Hollywood, most recently starring in the comedy Mancation. You can follow her on twitter @danicamckellar,where she frequently tweets about STEM topics.
Can you think of other role models for girls and young women pursuing STEM-related careers? They don't need to be actresses, but it is okay if they are. Share your thoughts below.
Role models can help students think about possibilities and define goals. Students are willing to try harder and persevere if they can connect to interesting people doing great work. Recently, the media has thrown a spotlight on accomplished figures in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The “NASA Mohawk Guy” has become a media sensation with his rocker-style in a profession with a straight-laced reputation. His real name is Bobak Ferdowski, and he is a flight director at NASA. His twitter account has grown from under 200 before the Mars Curiosity rover landing on August 5th to over 50,000 followers as of August 20th. As a young, social media-savvy guy with changing hairstyles, not to mention part of the team that sent a rover to Mars, Bobak is one of the coolest scientists around – and potentially a great role model for aspiring young STEM achievers.
There are lots of websites profiling success stories in STEM professions. The Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) hosts a website called Great Minds in STEM, offering profiles of dozens of Latino/a success stories in STEM industries.
100 Woman Leaders in STEM, offers in depth profiles for success stories that may be useful to motivate girls to excel in STEM studies. Sally Ride’s recent passing reminds us of the important of women’s leadership for young science and math learners.
What have your experiences been with the role of professional examples in education? Have you had any successful role models visit the classroom to provide an incentive for learning?
Share your experiences!
Could impulsivity lead to better math skills in children? Could this impulsivity be a reason behind the historic gender gap in K-12 STEM education? In the past, boys often scored higher on standardized testing in math than their female peers. The reason for the gender gap in mathematical performance may be based on a tendency towards impulsivity, according to a new study
by Drew H. Bailey, Andrew Littlefield, and David C. Geary. The report, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
, found that boys were more likely to make errors, more likely to call out answers in class, and more likely to answer from memory. The study found that girls were more deliberate, less likely to answer in class, more likely to count out on their fingers, and less likely to commit answers to memory. As a result, students who were less concerned about making errors and participated more, performed better in math.
The takeaway from this study is not a comment on the nature/nurture debate in education, but an insight into how learning styles affect math achievement. In this blog, Carolyn Kaemmer has already pointed out that the “gender gap” has been mostly erased on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). While the new study found a tendency for female students to be deliberate and male students to be impulsive, individual learning styles will vary across the spectrum. This study shows that students should be encouraged to actively participate in class and not to fear answering a question incorrectly. Consider Dr. David Dockterman’s blog entry about trial-and-error, or “loop learning,” where failure is an engine for success. Of course, taking chances isn’t enough. Managing math anxiety and perseverance are also essential behavior ingredients for learning.
What do you think? Are these different learning styles the reason for the gender gap? Share your thoughts.
Many K-12 STEM educators do not hold
a certification in their fields. In response to this, as well as to new CCSS standards, President Obama has announced one billion dollars
in funding for training of 20,000 new K-12 STEM teachers in his 2013 budget. This funding will create a “Master Corps” of educators designed to not only have the teaching expertise required of all K-12 educators, but specific training in upper-level science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Members of this STEM Master Corps will receive a $20,000 yearly federal stipend in addition to their base salary.
This commitment is part of a larger program, the RESPECT Project (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching), a five billion dollar program designed to increase the quality of K-12 STEM education. The Master Teaching Corps and RESPECT programs are a set of strategies for advancing STEM education. The President has made STEM education a focal point of his educational platform, even mentioning it in his last State of the Union address.
Do you think that this will improve the state of STEM education in this country? Share your thoughts about this initiative. Are you a studying to be a teacher? If so, would you consider joining the Master Corps?
A recent report from the National Science Foundation (NSF) reveals the six factors that distinguish successful STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education programs. eSchoolNews highlighted the report, which specifically assessed specialized schools with a STEM focus, but the recommendations provide food for thought to all educators interested in STEM. Adam Gamoran, chair of the committee that authored the report, emphasized the importance of implementing all six factors because they are interdependent in creating a successful STEM learning environment:
- A coherent set of standards and curriculum
- Highly qualified teachers
- A supportive system of assessment and accountability
- Adequate instructional time
- Equal access
- A school culture that encourages learning
Teacher training opportunities and sufficient instructional time to focus on STEM subjects were repeatedly lacking in schools. But when schools support these goals collectively, STEM can become an integral and valuable part of the curriculum. “Some people may have expected to see effective STEM instruction mostly in the selective STEM schools, but we found that effective STEM instruction may occur [...] even in regular schools,” Gamoran said.
Do you think advancing STEM is an achievable goal for all schools? What STEM initiatives has your school taken?
A cluster of new studies out of UMass Amherst suggest that the presence of female instructors and role models in math and science can serve as a “social vaccine” that protects female students’ interest in those fields. You can read a nice description here.
One part of the cluster of studies looked at women in a university math course. Their attitudes and performance both improved significantly over the course of a semester when the professor was female: the percentage of female students asking questions in class or seeking help at office hours increased appreciably when the professor was female and decreased when the professor was male. In another part, even the barest presence of a female role model – a female greeter wearing a shirt reading "E=mc2" – improved the women’s performance on a difficult math test.
This study addresses one enduring puzzle about girls and STEM: why are women so outnumbered in STEM careers, when at the high school level they are equaling or outperforming their male peers? There’s still so much female attrition along the way – why? Well, role models dwindle as the girls advance, and as these studies suggest, this is a strong signal to young women that they do not belong there.
I like the idea of a social vaccine, because I think this is a two-part problem, at least. Yes, girls are probably getting subtle negative messages about STEM from the world around them. But one thing this study indicates is that girls, more than boys, are highly susceptible to both positive and negative messages, and we need to take extra care to fortify them against the negative ones.
I for one think that we women are wired to be super tuned-in to our environment, and that it’s a great trait. But maybe in the case of advancement in STEM, it’s hurting us.
Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recently released a 130-page online report suggesting changes to the education system to better prepare and inspire K-12 students to pursue STEM fields. One thing that I appreciated about this report is that the group (which included Google CEO Eric Schmidt!) suggested actionable items rather than doing a review of the literature and organizing general priorities, which seemed to be a common theme in the last half dozen or so reports of this nature that I have read.
A recommendation that particularly caught my eye is spending $325 million a year to boost the salaries of some 22,000 top-notch math and science teachers around the country. That comes out to an average of $14,772 for each, plus discretionary funds for the classroom, which is a big deal. However, what seems like an even bigger deal is that this means teachers would be assessed to be selected as part of this winning batch. I was scrolling down the report, looking forward to reading the recommendations of how to select these teachers, but unfortunately, this was it: "We recommend that the Federal Government undertake a rapid six-month study to address the issues in implementing a STEM Master Teachers Corps - including the selection process and criteria for the teachers and the organization and administrative structure."
The council would like the teachers to be "selected based on their demonstrated ability to prepare and inspire students." Now here's what I wonder: How can a teacher's ability to inspire students be measured? Thoughts?
photo credit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports
Our recent staff meeting reminded me that Scholastic is more than just about creating new, innovative products for the classroom. Our software engineering team, directed by Eric Hilfer (pictured), works around the clock to also make sure product implementation is smooth at our schools.
I'll start with the folks that have what may sound like a kid's dream job. Their role is to, as one described to me, "try to break things" and get paid for such mischief. It's our Quality Assurance group, and their job is to try out every possible action to see how our software deals with it. And if the program has a hiccup, they document the computer bug to make sure it's fixed. Most recently, 60 bugs got fixed for our newest program, Fraction Nation.
The rest of the engineering and software team includes those who design platforms, write code, and build new tools for hosted servers for schools. Recently, we excitedly welcomed the addition of some very old hardware. Old is exciting because the hardware is part of our virtualization lab that allows us to mimic the technological capacities of schools that don't have the newest equipment so that we can help them troubleshoot from our center. And of course, the team engineers the products that students use as well! It's kind of cool that the engineers are using their STEM knowledge to build things that help kids master STEM subjects to potentially go into STEM fields. :)
Women are increasingly prominent in medicine, law and business, yet not in science, math and engineering. A new report released by the American Association of University Women points to environmental and social factors.
The report cites a promising statistic: the rapid increase in the number of girls achieving very high scores on mathematics tests (once thought to measure innate ability) suggests that cultural factors are at work. Thirty years ago there were 13 boys for every girl who scored above 700 on the SAT math exam at age 13; today that ratio has shrunk to about 3:1.
In a nutshell, from the report, these are the cultural factors at work:
1. Stereotypes that boys are better than girls in math.
2. Beliefs about innate intelligence that are influenced by stereotypes.
3. Girls assess their math abilities lower than do boys with similar math achievements.
4. Boys outperform girls in spatial skills.
5. There's a need for more courses that provide a broader overview of the STEM fields in introductory courses to attract more females.
6. Departmental culture in STEM fields can be improved to promote the integration of female faculty.
7. People have an implicit bias to associate science and math fields with "male" and humanities and arts fields with "female".
8. There's a workplace bias because people often hold negative opinions of women in "masculine" positions, like scientists or engineers, making it more difficult for women to succeed.
These nuggest are just scratching the surface of the 134-page report, which goes into depth about each of these barriers.
I personally find implicit bias to be very fascinating. Mahzarin Banaji, who's one of the leaders in that work, has an online implicit bias test that people can take to identify and understand biases they may not realize they had so that they can work to compensate for them. It may surprise you!
I enjoyed attending last week's National Math Panel Forum in Washington. Like the first forum, the specific objectives of the gathering weren't crystal clear. However, the opportunity to mix with folks representing federal and state policy, the various fields of mathematics, pre- and in-service teacher development, math education, publishing, assessment, research, and more was invigorating and provocative. I felt I learned a lot, and I hope that the efforts to capture collective thinking in targeted breakout sessions lead to valuable recommendations.
However, I did have one nagging concern from the gathering. When representatives of the Obama administration talked about the need for STEM education and incentives to extend it, I got a little nervous. My anxiety is that schools become satisfied with students doing fun projects like building model bridges and designing software games, and they neglect the rigor of the science and math that make the bridges and games work.
I do love STEM. I've created scores of science and math programs that engage students with compelling contexts requiring a deep understanding of the content. We have to make sure, though, not to stop with the context -- the manipulatives, the spreadsheet, the stuff students are doing. Those activities, the Technology and Engineering, are vehicles for engaging with, learning, and applying the Science and Math. Students need to know how and why thinks work so that they can use the concepts in other compelling (and mundane) situations. The National Research Council report -- Taking Science to School -- from a few years ago does a nice job of summarizing how hands-on science often became a fun manipulative experience for students. They looked very engaged, but they typically couldn't explain the science. As we move forward now with math, we need to be cautious that STEM doesn't sTEm.