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Researchers and educators gather to discuss girls' math identity and STEM education

June 09, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC — How can educators and parents in the United States encourage girls to excel in their math, science and technology classes and go on to pursue STEM-related careers? According to experts who organized the Furthering Girls’ Math Identity event, the answer lies in the concept of “math identity.” The event, part of a National Science Foundation-funded project, Educational Equity, gathered educators, researchers and policymakers from across the country. It was held on June 9, 2015, in Washington, DC, and was hosted by FHI 360 in partnership with IMPAQ International and the New York Academy of Sciences.

“Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM-related careers, particularly in fields involving higher mathematics,” said Merle Froschl, Co-Director, Educational Equity, School and Community Services, FHI 360. “Understanding and encouraging girls’ math identity, particularly in elementary and middle grades, can help us to increase their participation and persistence in these fields.”

A recent report titled Student Academic Mindset Interventions: A Critical Review, by IMPAQ International, demonstrated that students develop and persist in academic behaviors when they have a well-developed sense of academic identity and community. Students who value the power of their minds and are aware of their own personal academic identity also take pride in belonging to a learning community, are comfortable speaking up and actively engaging in the learning that takes place in that community and contribute to the building of the learning community as learners and teachers of each other.

“Given the importance of math skills to a wide variety of 21st century careers, we at the New York Academy of Sciences feel that it is critical to increase our knowledge base around how to retain girls as active participants in math,” says Meghan Groome, PhD, Executive Director, Education, the New York Academy of Sciences. “We are proud to be participating in this effort with other organizations whose missions align with ours when it comes to creating more opportunities for underserved populations to engage with STEM subjects and to become future STEM leaders.”

The event featured panel presentations and working group discussions that aimed to understand what we can learn from existing research about girls’ math identity and to explore the ways this research can be implemented in schools and out-of-school programs across the United States. The conference participants also focused on establishing a network improvement community (NIC) that will allow researchers and practitioners from many disciplines to work together to define common research goals and prioritize math identity for girls in elementary and middle grades.

“Through the NIC, we can harness the power of researcher–practitioner collaboration to generate and test innovative ideas to improving girls’ math identity and ultimately increase their participation in STEM,” said Dr. Cheri Fancsali, Managing Director and Principal Research Scientist, IMPAQ International. “IMPAQ is thrilled to be part of this important work that explores key themes identified in our review of the landscape of student academic mindset interventions.”

Partners at Educational Equity at FHI 360, IMPAQ International and the New York Academy of Sciences are collaborating on this three-year project designed to advance research on girls’ math identity in the United States and link findings directly to classroom practices.