A Day in a High School Math Class #STEM #Education

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I am a California Credentialed Math Teacher and substitute teacher. Today I had the privilege of teaching math at the local high school, something I enjoy very much in my retirement.

Today was different because I had just finished reading The Confidence Code, The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know.

These two events were synergistic.

First, I was encouraged to find equal numbers of girls and boys raising their hands to my question, “Who plans use math beyond high school? Who intends to study Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics?”

It hasn’t always been like this, and I took this as an indication that efforts to interest girls in STEM fields were working. In addition to girls interested in veterinary and pediatric careers, I also found girls in interested in sports medicine and civil engineering.

I also found girls that were interested in math, but getting discouraged. This was my first opportuinity to shared what I’d been reading. Research reported in The Confidence Code has found that boys’ mathematical brain development peaks in high school while the same development for girls peaks later in college. This was encouraging news for the these girls with interest waning due to some struggles.

As I worked one-on-one with individual students, I observed the exactly the behavior that was the subject of The Confidence Code. Many of the girls did not have the confidence to attempt the assignment.

The book reports that girls/women consistently under estimate their competency, while the opposite is true for boys/men. As I explained this to struggling students, we observed that they could actually do the problems that they were avoiding. One of the girls summarized this research with, “So we just psych ourselves out.”

A second piece of research that suggested a very specific action for these girls. There was an experiment where boys tested above the girls on the first trial. On the second trial, the girls were required to answer every question, not leave any blank. In the second condition, everyone all test the same.

Sure enough I found a number of girls who skipped questions. When I sat with them and encouraged them to complete every one, just like in the experiment in the book, they discovered they knew how to work the problems and get the correct answer.

This day was encouraging for two reasons. First more girls are considering STEM fields to the point where they are willing to raise their hand and declare this position. Second the research reported in this book played out just as predicted. This book shows the way to promote success for the increased number of girls now considering STEM.

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Image credit: Joe Mabel [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons