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IES Practice Guide for Encouraging Girls in Math and Science

This past September the National Center for Education Research released a practice guide with five recommended strategies for encouraging girls in Math and Science. The report is research-based and includes a number of interesting facts from recent educational researchers as well as recommended strategies that can be easily applied in classrooms.

The practice guide states that "To encourage girls in math and science, we need to begin first with their beliefs about their abilities in these areas, second with sparking and maintaining greater interest in these topics, and finally with building associated skills." (pg. 8) The recommendations put forward by the practice guide are:

  • Teach students that academic abilities are expandable and improvable. This addresses the belief that some students have that knowledge is fixed at birth (the idea that a student does well more because of "smarts" than due to hard work).
  • Provide prescriptive, informational feedback. Feedback that focuses on positive work ethic, good application of strategies, and problem solving techniques vs. just stating that students did a "good job" decreases their belief that knowledge is fixed and also encourages them to have better self-efficacy with regards to the subject.
  • Expose girls and young women to female role models who have succeeded in math and science.
  • Create a classroom environment that sparks initial curiosity and fosters long term interest in math and science. Using project based learning and activities that allow students to frame problems within their own interests can help them understand how math and science (as well as computing skills) can have broad applications.
  • Provide spatial skills training. Research suggests that students do not always have the knowledge about what spatial strategies are available to them in order to solve a problem. In computer science we often draw diagrams to represent concepts or ideas. Making the methods behind the construction of the diagrams and the reasons for the diagrams explicit can help students make better choices about problem solving strategies.

One of the most interesting recommendations to me, and probably the easiest to implement in the classroom is the idea of prescriptive, informational feedback. "Experimental work suggests that feedback given in the form of praise focused on global intelligence (e.g., 'you are smart') may have a negative impact on future learning behavior in comparison to praise about effort (e.g., 'you must have worked hard')."

I cannot count the number of times I have just said to students, "you are smart enough to do this" or "see, that was easy" rather than acknowledging the effort and work that they put into the project. Comments such as "I believe you can do this, you work hard enough" and "that wasn't too much work" (as opposed to easy) are now going to become part of my classroom praise for students.

If you get the chance I would highly recommend reading the practice guide. It is written for classroom teachers and does an excellent job of making recommendations you can use in your classes today. Even if you don't get the chance to read the guide, please share with us what you believe to be the most interesting idea from above or even something you might do in your classroom that aligns with the IES suggestions.

Leigh Ann Sudol
CSTA Communications Committee Chair


Another Link:

The 5th recommendation above is about teaching spatial thinking skills explicitly as a part of your class. I wasnt sure what that entailed myself or the best ways to teach it, and so I went looking for references.

The National Academies Press (which has a lot of great books) has a book specifically addressing "Learning to Think Spatially". While the book is available at a price, if you scroll down on the link you can read any part of the book online. I recommend chapter 4 and appendix H.

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