How peers influence teens' interest in studying math and science

Sep 24, 2013
This is Nilanjana Dasgupta. Credit: UMass Amherst

The American workforce is losing out on precious human capital because too few women and racial minorities pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics––the so-called STEM subjects, says psychology researcher Nilanjana Dasgupta of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She recently received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to identify solutions to this problem. Women and minorities represent untapped human capital that could enhance the STEM workforce because together, they comprise more than 50 percent of the American population, she adds.

Dasgupta says her goal is "to test what types of classroom dynamics and peer relationships in math and get girls hooked on STEM subjects, increase their confidence, interest and motivation to aspire higher. Middle school is an important period in development during which make a big difference. My goal is to identify solutions to that so-called leaky pipeline, when we lose too many girls and minorities."

An important long-term outcome of the work in collaboration with sociologist Catherine Riegle-Crumb at the University of Texas at Austin and a diverse sample of middle schools across the nation, she adds, will be to translate findings into concrete classroom practices and learning approaches that may be used by K-12 teachers and principals to enhance STEM teaching practices and to attract, retain and advance more girls and students of color in math and sciences. Findings are likely to also benefit young women in college-level science and .

The researchers will launch two studies, the first exploring whether math and science classes in middle school that have female students only compared to mixed-gender classes enhance girls' interest in these subjects and whether girls-only classrooms have similar effects on black and Hispanic girls who face race and compared to white girls, who face gender but not racial stereotypes. This study will also identify what types of peer dynamics in classrooms promote positive outcomes for girls in STEM and test whether these dynamics occur to different extents in all-female compared to coed classes.

Once the most beneficial peer dynamics are identified, the second study will test whether, when put in action in coed classrooms in a nationally representative sample of middle schools, they produce the same benefits for girls. "Our goal is to look for converging and complementary evidence using multiple methods across two studies," the researchers state.

Dasgupta is a leading expert on gender and STEM education. She has previously studied how implicit social expectations and stereotypes affect students' sense of self, views about their own competencies, and behavior in subtle, often unconscious ways. Her work identifies the circumstances and strategies that prevent implicit stereotypes from negatively affecting academic and professional self-concept among , women and racial/ethnic minority students.

Explore further: New 'Surveyman' software promises to revolutionize survey design and accuracy

More information:

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Do girls really experience more math anxiety?

Aug 27, 2013

Girls report more math anxiety on general survey measures but are not actually more anxious during math classes and exams, according to new research forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Ps ...

Keep boys and girls together, research suggests

Apr 11, 2008

Boys and girls may learn differently, but American parents should think twice before moving their children to sex-segregated schools. A new Tel Aviv University study has found that girls improve boys’ grades markedly at ...

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2013
Absurd ostrichism. How many times do we have to have this silly debate before we settle on the obvious conclusions about the actual distribution curves for STEM talent..