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Friday, August 05, 2016

What's Keeping Women Out of Science, Math Careers? Calculus and Confidence | Education Week's blog - Curriculum Matters

Photo: Liana Heitin
Liana Heitin, assistant editor for Education Week, and co-author of the blog Curriculum Matters notes, "It's well-known there's a gender gap within science, technology, engineering, and math majors and careers, and a new study traces the moment many women give up on STEM to a single college class: calculus."

Photo: Getty

The study, published in PLOS One last month, found that women are 1.5 times more likely to drop out of the STEM pipeline after Calculus I than men are. And that's likely because women, when compared to men of similar capabilities, tend to start and end the course with lower confidence in their math skills. (During the course itself, men and women lose math confidence at about the same rate.)

"This work points to female students' mathematical confidence entering college as a major contributing factor to women's participation in the STEM workforce," write the researchers, who are from Colorado State University and San Diego State University, "and thus more work is needed to understand the factors (such as classroom environment, home environment, extra curricular involvement, etc.,) that help to shape students' perceptions of their own success before they enter college."

Previous studies have pointed to gender gaps in confidence starting at a young age. Boys were more likely than girls to say they could learn computer science, according to a Google study. And results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, show that girls are more likely to report feeling math anxiety than boys.

A Different STEM Workforce  
The recent study looked at survey results from about 5,000 college students. The researchers asked students who switched out of STEM after Calculus I why they made that decision. Thirty-five percent of women who previously had intended to pursue STEM fields said they did not understand the Calculus I material well enough to take Calculus II. Just 14 percent of men who switched out said the same.

But according to their grades, those men and women performed similarly: 16 percent of those men and 19 percent of those women reported having gotten grades that weren't good enough to allow them to move on to Calculus II.

Source: Education Week's blog - Curriculum Matters