Category Archives: Learning Styles

Declining Female Interest in STEM Fields

In the most recent years, the gender gap in STEM interest has been increasing.

The other day, I was sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by papers with equations scribbled all over them. Believe me, I wasn’t pretending to be a savant for the world’s attention. I went to a public place so that I would stop saying aloud “Ugh, you moron, you don’t know any of this.”

To my surprise, a woman stopped me on her way out and asked if I was majoring in math. I looked up and responded with a hint of defeat that I was trying to study engineering. Then I asked if she had previously studied math.

She responded that she had, and then proceeded to tell me about all of the different options it gave her, and about the different jobs she had which finally led her to the marketing of accessories (she pointed to a purse she had with her). We had a short discussion about all of the opportunities that having a background in math and science offers you. It doesn’t force you into one single career; it opens a road to opportunity.

Yet, in the United States, it seems we are still stuck in the belief that math is hard, or that it is reserved for only the smartest students. Believe me, you don’t have to be a genius to learn processes that go with math and science.

Pursuing an education in STEM doesn’t shovel you into a basement corner where you have to sit and endlessly pump out math equations, or drink coffee and write computer code all day. STEM fields teach you a way of thinking. Of course, there are engineers who will go into “hard-core” engineering, just as there are English majors who will devote their lives to researching a single form of literature from a very specific time period and geographic location. Certainly, there are people who have specific passions and talents in life, and pursue education based on this. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, many people want an education leading to a career of sorts that contributes to the world in a positive way and provides a stable income. My concern is that young women are being discouraged from educational paths that provide this because they are mislead about what studying the sciences or engineering entails.

The Interest in STEM Fields

Below is a plot of male versus female interest in STEM fields. You can see the whole report here.

The gap in STEM interest between high school freshmen males and females has been increasing.

Seeing that the overall interest in STEM has been increasing makes me incredibly happy. It is wonderful that students are becoming more interested in STEM fields. Many new and upcoming jobs have some component of science or engineering. Just look at how often we use computers and modern technology outside of what is considered “the engineering world.”

What is disappointing is that female interest in STEM fields has been declining since the class of 2010. In fact, the gender gap in STEM interest is steadily increasing. In addition to the declining female interest, the study also states “since the graduating class of 2000, African American interest in STEM majors/careers has dropped by nearly 30%.”

Engineering and science are fields that should include everyone. The skills learned allow for numerous career paths from medicine to business. While I think it is excellent that we see an increasing interest with male students (specifically Caucasian men), I must ask, what is it about our culture or the way that we are currently portraying engineering and science to high school students that is causing women and African American students to have a declining interest in more recent years?

When Stress Gets the Best of You

Are you a worrier or a warrior?

A recent article in the New York Times investigates two types of students. There are the warriors, who thrive off of high stakes and sudden stress situations. They have fast acting enzymes that can quickly clear dopamine that builds up in high stress situations.

Then there are the worriers. These are the students that need to plan ahead and get stomach knots when faced with a high stakes test. They have slower acting enzymes that clear dopamine from the brain in stressful situations. These students can usually concentrate well, and have an advantage in problem solving and planning.

Of course there are students that have a mix of the two as well. Apparently you get one gene from each parent, so you can have a mix, or be purely worrier or warrior.

I will be the first to admit I am a worrier. The past two weeks of high stress have demonstrated this, as I am now sick and stuck in bed. I do not handle high pressure and last minute stress. In fact, I get to the point where I become physically ill from the stress, which is where I am at now. I became so sick, that I had to cancel an important research trip. Thus, I find this article a fitting one to write about.

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The debate about the best academic environment is an interesting one. I am huge proponent of education. I also think students should be rewarded for hard work. We need a way to measure the ability of a student, but I have never been convinced that grades and tests are necessarily the best way.

In high school, I was the valedictorian on my class. I stressed constantly about getting perfect grades and completing each homework assignment to perfection. I would start each assignment ahead of time though, as it was impossible for me to do any assignment the night before it was due, as it would turn my stomach in knots. In hindsight, I should have probably given slightly less of a crap because there is more to life than getting good grades, but the past is in the past.

So, I got excellent grades. I don’t know that this necessarily means I was smart. In fact, there was a whole other aspect of the academic world that I was not, and am still not good at. This is the dreaded standardized test. While I didn’t necessarily “fail” at these sorts of tests, I have always received a far lower score than one that reflects my problem solving ability and knowledge. I even scored so low on the ACT, that it disqualified me for several scholarships.

On the other hand, I have several friends that are the complete opposite. They love to procrastinate. They do amazing on standardized tests, and have no problem going into tests with little to no studying. However, when it comes to these students succeeding at a long-term course projects, the procrastination thing doesn’t work out so well in their favor.

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I love comparing the experiences of different types of students. It is interesting to discuss what makes a class something that all types of learners and students can benefit from. I’ve found that my favorite classes were the ones with projects and labs. Spending time preparing and creating something was always fun for me. The classes that were purely test based were the ones I dreaded. If there were pop quizzes added in through the semester, it turned into a recipe for disaster for me.

An ideal class might combine all sorts of learning techniques, which include tests, interactive lectures, group work, long-term projects and shorter-term homework assignments. There are different types of learning subgroups even beyond the warrior versus worrier to think about as well. I would love to see more variability in academic courses. Then, of course this takes a lot of work and planning on behalf of the instructor, and that is something that just isn’t recognized or rewarded enough in the busy academic world for many instructors to embrace it.

What kind of person are you? A worrier or a warrior?