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Encouraging Diversity in Math & Science

Math has a public relations problem, and U.S. achievement in math is much lower than in other developed countries. Math and science professionals at the American Association for the Advancement of Science have noticed the problem and categorized U.S. math programs as "below average."

The Importance of Diversity

Diversity in schools and the workforce encourages creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. We must cooperate with those who work and think differently from us in order to make progress, solve complex problems and develop an appreciation for the differences that add to our collective strengths.

The Diversity Problem

Careers in math and science are seen as inaccessible by many minority groups. A number of factors contribute to this problem including the way the subjects are taught, which tends to favor certain groups of students over others and the underrepresentation of minority teachers in leadership roles in these subjects.

Diversity in math and science is almost nonexistent, as advanced math is often considered an elitist subject, with those chosen for specialized programs coming from a very small pool of eligible applicants. Roni Ellington writing for PBS describes math as a "gatekeeper" subject, as students are required to reach a certain baseline level to pursue other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or STEM-related courses.

Math has traditionally been taught in a "chalk and talk" model, which disadvantages the nonlinear cultural learning styles typical for some African-American and Latino students. Ellington says that nonlinear learners are often described as "not math people."

Women constitute another group that is underrepresented in STEM degrees and STEM jobs. Women hold less than 25 percent of STEM careers, according to the Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

As prospects for labor-intensive jobs decline and the need for STEM-trained professionals increases, math's popularity problem will quickly become an economic problem for America. This fact was not lost on the Obama administration, which highlighted diversity as the key to advancement in a variety of STEM fields and stated that "STEM innovation is key to America's future. We must draw on talent from every part of our society and capitalize on the extraordinary diversity of thought that comes with diversity of people."

The challenge for teachers and schools in bringing more diversity to math and science is to make the subjects accessible, fun and engaging for all students.

Ways Forward

An essential element in raising the profile of mathematics and science for students from all backgrounds and enabling them to develop a love of numeracy and technology is to represent all learners in the classroom. In order for students to believe they belong, they have to be represented. Fostering diversity means encouraging not only a range of students to participate in mathematical activities and classes but also teachers from under-represented backgrounds to study STEM subjects and become ambassadors for the disciplines in their community.

A master's degree in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in either math or science is a rigorous postgraduate training program. It introduces teachers to a variety of instruction models that support our diverse classrooms through a program of multicultural STEM education. Diverse learning styles require concerted efforts by educators to evolve the delivery of mathematical and scientific concepts and lessons to be inclusive of those styles.

A master's degree in curriculum and instruction (M.Ed. C&I) aims to change traditional math and science cultural and gender bias with a teacher development program emphasizing approaches to math and science that engage all students, including English Language Learners (ELLs) and address issues of ethnicity and gender.

UTA's math- and science-focused M.Ed. C&I programs provide an opportunity for teachers to make those subjects accessible for all students and usher in a generation of STEM leaders to better represent our communities.

Learn more about the UTA's online M.Ed. programs in Curriculum and Instruction. 


Sources:

U.S. Department of Commerce: Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation

Obama White House Archives: STEM - Strength Through Diversity

PBS: The Mathematics Pipeline and Student Diversity: An Uncommon Dialogue

Pew Research Center: U.S. Students' Academic Achievement Still Lags That of Their Peers in Many Other Countries


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