‘Math Identity’ Prepares Students for STEM Majors


Looking for ways to encourage more of your students to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering, or math?

Efforts need to go beyond college-prep coursework, according to a paper published in 2015.

Students who succeed in developing an identity as a “math person” are more likely than their peers to go on to study STEM subjects in college, data show.

“You need to become interested in math or recognized for your math ability to continue on,” Zahra Hazari, one of the study’s researchers, told The Hechinger Report.

Competence alone is not enough, she noted.

Hazari’s research can help explain why more high school students who earn A’s in math don’t study quantitative subjects in college.

The disconnect is especially common among young women.

“If they feel that they have the abilities, and they’re never recognized, then they’re even less likely to become math people,” Hazari said.

The findings are based on a survey of more than 9,000 college calculus students. A genuine interest in the mathematics, as well as recognition of one’s abilities, had the strongest influence on students’ “math identity,” according to researchers.

Hazari is working on another paper examining the ways educators and others can better acknowledge students’ mathematical prowess.

“It’s not about praise,” she told The Hechinger Report. Instead, Hazari urges teachers and parents to create opportunities for children to embrace their math expertise.

“You’re playing this game of trying to empower people in your classroom,” she said. “There’s lots of ways to facilitate it; you have to become more conscious that you’re going to do it.”

 Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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