IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Gender Stereotypes in STEM: Emergence and Prevention

In 2018, Dr. Allison Master and co-PI Andrew Meltzoff were awarded a grant, Gender Stereotypes in STEM: Exploring Developmental Patterns for Prevention. This 4-year project explores how and when gender stereotypes about STEM career pathways emerge. The study also seeks to identify ways to mitigate the effects of such stereotypes, such as whether a growth mindset can lead to changes in student attitudes and outcomes toward STEM. As an undergraduate student majoring in microbiology at UCLA, Yuri Lin, virtual intern at NCER, was interested in learning more about gender inequalities and stereotypes in STEM education. She recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Master about her research and its implications for increasing STEM participation among women.

 

How is American culture affecting the STEM gender gap, and how does the US compare to other countries on this issue?

When children grow up in American culture, they see lots of TV shows and books where mathematicians, scientists, and engineers are men. STEM-based toys are also heavily marketed toward boys rather than girls. Some countries have begun changing the portrayal of gender stereotypes in the media. For example, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has recently started banning TV commercials that reinforce gender stereotypes. Some cross-national studies have shown that gender-STEM stereotypes favoring men are linked to women’s lower success and participation in STEM. The United States is one of many Western countries in which women have more equality and freedom to choose their careers but are much less likely to choose STEM careers than men. We still have a lot of work to do in the United States to break down barriers for women in STEM, and we need to focus on helping girls and women see the value in choosing pathways into STEM.

 

Why do you think it is important to examine growth mindset as a potential way to reduce the effects of stereotypes and increase STEM interest in students?

Growth mindsets are beliefs that personal characteristics can be changed, through effort or the right strategies. This is contrasted with fixed mindsets, which are beliefs that those characteristics can’t be changed. Growth mindsets are particularly helpful for struggling students. Students who have a growth mindset remain focused on learning rather than looking smart, believe effort is important, and stay resilient even when they experience setbacks. These attitudes translate into putting forth more effort and determination, which lead to greater success. In our project, we want to know if a growth mindset can help girls stay motivated in computer science, a subject that can have a steep learning curve. Girls in particular often get discouraged when they feel that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in STEM. We hope that teaching girls to have a growth mindset will protect them from these negative stereotypes and increase their confidence in themselves and their sense of belonging in computer science.

 

Considering that your project includes students from grades 1 to 12, how do you plan to share your findings with teachers, students, and policymakers? Are there differences in how you might communicate the information for different age groups?

As a developmental psychologist, I think it’s important to communicate the information about different age groups to everyone! It can be very valuable to frame student motivation in the broader context of how students are growing and changing. Students start to endorse stereotypes about computer science and engineering very early—Grades 1-3—so elementary school is a great time to start counteracting stereotypes by showing a broad representation of who enjoys and succeeds in STEM. We start to see big gender gaps in computer science interest during middle school, so this is a great time to have girls participate in fun and engaging coding classes. And we’ve already noted how important it is for girls in high school to have a growth mindset in their STEM classes.

We have different goals for communicating with teachers, parents, and policymakers. We know that teachers are very busy, so we try to condense things into the most important practical tips. We’ve made short videos and infographics about our research for teachers. For policymakers, we write policy briefs, which combines our research with other findings that are relevant to education policy. And when we talk to parents, we try to focus on the importance of the experiences they provide for their kids. We really value spreading the word about our research to make sure it reaches people who can use it to make a difference. For more information and access to the various resources, please visit the I AM Lab website.

 


Allison Master, PhD (@AllisonMaster), a developmental psychologist and an assistant professor at the University of Houston, has conducted extensive research on the development of motivation and identity in STEM education. 

Written by Yuri Lin (ylin010101@g.ucla.edu), intern for the Institute of Education Sciences and a Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major at UCLA.

"Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It": Examining Gender Stereotypes in Mathematics Achievement

In 2020, Andrei Cimpian, along with co-PIs Sapna Cheryan, Joseph Cimpian, and Sarah Lubienski, were awarded a grant for “Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It”: The Development and Consequences of Gender Stereotypes About Natural Talent vs. Effort in Mathematics. The goal of this project is threefold: 1) to explore the origins of the gender stereotype that girls achieve in math due to effort and boys achieve in math due to natural talent, 2) to investigate the consequences of these stereotypes, and 3) to identify ways of reducing the negative effects of these stereotypes on mathematics outcomes. In this blog, we interviewed Dr. Andrei Cimpian on his inspiration and insights on this research, as well as his plans to disseminate the findings to education practitioners.

 

Dr. Andrew CimpianWhat spurred your research, and what prior research was foundational for this current study? 

The co-PIs and I were inspired to do this research because we were struck by the contrast between two sets of facts. On the one hand, girls do better in school than boys from kindergarten to grade 12. Women also obtain more bachelor’s and graduate degrees than men. On the other hand, we as a society still think of men as more brilliant and genius-like than women. For example, participants in a 2018 study referred more male than female acquaintances for a job that they were told requires natural smarts1. When the same job was said to require a strong work ethic instead, participants referred equal numbers of women and men.

Of course, societal views of women and men have changed quite a bit over the last century. With respect to general competence, women are now equal with men in the eyes of the American public. But the stereotype that associates “raw,” high-level intellectual talent with men more than women seems to have resisted change. Why?

Our research is testing a promising hypothesis: It is possible that people give different explanations for women’s and men’s intellectual successes, explaining men’s competence as being due primarily to their inborn intellectual talent and women’s as being due to their efforts. This effort-vs.-talent stereotype “explains away” women’s achievements by attributing them to a quality—perseverance—that is less valued in American culture than natural ability.

Versions of this explanatory stereotype have been documented in adults, but our project will provide its first systematic investigation among children. In particular, we will investigate the effort-vs.-talent stereotype in the domain of mathematics because innate ability is particularly valued in this domain1, which might make this stereotype especially consequential.

 

What are some examples of language or behavior that might suggest an individual holds a particular stereotype? Are there potential ways of mitigating the negative effects of stereotypes?

The best example of this stereotype that I can think of—and this is in fact the anecdote that crystallized our team’s interest in this topic—was recounted by co-PI Joseph Cimpian in a recent piece for The Brookings Institution (emphasis is mine):

About five years ago, while Sarah [Lubienski] and I were faculty at the University of Illinois, we gathered a small group of elementary teachers together to help us think through […] how we could intervene on the notion that girls were innately less capable than boys. One of the teachers pulled a stack of papers out of her tote bag, and spreading them on the conference table, said, “Now, I don’t even understand why you’re looking at girls’ math achievement. These are my students’ standardized test scores, and there are absolutely no gender differences. See, the girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough.” Then, without anyone reacting, it was as if a light bulb went on. She gasped and continued, “Oh my gosh, I just did exactly what you said teachers are doing,” which is attributing girls’ success in math to hard work while attributing boys’ success to innate ability. She concluded, “I see now why you’re studying this.”

In terms of what can be done to mitigate the effects of this stereotype, our project will investigate a potential strategy: normalizing effort by making it clear to students that everyone (not just particular groups) needs to work hard to learn math. This message reframes what is viewed as necessary for success in math away from the belief that natural talent is key, thereby undercutting the power of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes.

 

The current study focuses on elementary school students in grades 1 through 4. What was the motivation for choosing this specific age group?

In general, gender stereotypes about intellectual ability seem to emerge quite early. For instance, girls as young as 6 and 7 are less likely than boys to associate being “really, really smart” with members of their own gender. For this reason, we think it is really important to focus on young children—we need to understand when effort-vs.-talent stereotypes first take root!

“Catching” these stereotypes when they first arise is also important for intervention purposes. If left unchecked, the effects of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes may snowball over time (for example, differences in the types of careers that young women and men are motivated to pursue).

 

What plans do you have to disseminate the findings of this research in ways that will be useful for education practitioners? 

We are mindful of the importance of getting this research into the hands of teachers so that they can use it in practice. We hope to write articles on this work for media outlets that draw educationally oriented audiences. To reach parents as well, we will coordinate with popular media outlets to disseminate the results of this work to general audiences. More generally, we will make every effort to ensure that the findings have maximal societal impact, raising awareness of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes among parents, educators, and the general public.

 


Andrei Cimpian, PhD (@AndreiCimpian), Professor of Psychology at New York University, has conducted extensive research on children’s conceptual development, explanations, and motivation in school.

Written by Yuri Lin (ylin010101@g.ucla.edu), intern for the Institute of Education Sciences.

Photo credit: Brian Stauffer


1The full PDF and resources are available at https://www.cimpianlab.com/motivation.

The Importance of Partnering with Practitioners in English Learner Research

IES values and encourage collaborations between researchers and practitioners to ensure that research findings are relevant, accessible, feasible, and useful. In FY 2014, Dr. Karen Thompson was awarded a grant for The Oregon English Learner Alliance: A Partnership to Explore Factors Associated with Variation in Outcomes for Current and Former English Learners in Oregon to determine best practices to support academic achievement among current and former English learners. Dr. Thompson and her colleagues wrote a guest blog post describing the work that the partnership undertook to better understand and improve the performance of English learners in Oregon. In this blog, we interviewed Dr. Thompson—three years after the end of the grant—to get her perspectives on the partnership, outcomes of their work, and where things currently stand.

 

What was the purpose of your research and what led you to do this work?

When I came to Oregon from California in 2012, there was growing momentum in the state to better understand and meet the needs of the state’s multilingual student population, particularly students classified as English learners (ELs). The state had developed an ambitious EL strategic plan, which included a variety of goals and action steps, such as identifying model programs and sharing best practices. I noticed that Oregon did not have publicly available information about the state’s former EL students. In prior work, other researchers and I had demonstrated that analyzing data only about students currently classified as English learners without also analyzing data about former EL students can provide incomplete and misleading information. Therefore, for Oregon to realize its goals and truly understand which programs and practices were most effectively educating its multilingual students, the state needed to make changes to its data systems. This was the seed that led to the Oregon Department of Education/Oregon State University English Language Learner Partnership. Our first goal was to simply determine how many former EL students there were in the state. Then, once the state had created a flag to identify former EL students, we were able to conduct a wide range of analyses to better understand opportunities and outcomes for both current and former EL students in ways that have informed state reporting practices and policy decisions.

 

How does this research differ from other work in the field? Why do you think partnerships with practitioners were necessary to carry out the work?

When we began our partnership, collecting and analyzing information about both current and former EL students was not common. Happily, more and more researchers and education agencies have now adopted these approaches, and we think our partnership has helped play a role in this important and illuminating shift.  

It was crucial to conduct this work via partnerships between researchers and practitioners. Practitioner partners had deep knowledge of the state’s current data systems, along with knowledge about which reporting and analysis practices could shift to incorporate new information about current and former EL students. Research partners had the bandwidth to conduct additional analyses and to lead external dissemination efforts. Our regular partnership meetings enabled our work to evolve in response to new needs. 

 

What do you think was the most important outcome of your work and why?

I think the most important outcome of our work is that educators across Oregon now have information about both their current and former English learner students and can use this data to inform policy and practice decisions. Other analyses we conducted have also informed state actions. For example, our analysis of how long it takes Oregon EL students to develop English proficiency and exit EL services informed the state’s EL progress indicator under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

 

What are the future directions for this work?

Our IES-funded partnership led to funding from the Spencer Foundation to do further research about EL students with disabilities in Oregon, which has impacted practices in the state. In addition, I am excited to be one of the collaborators in the new IES-funded National Research and Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners (PI: Aída Walquí, WestEd). As part of the Center’s research, I am working with colleagues at the University of Oregon and the University of California, Los Angeles to analyze malleable factors impacting content-course access and achievement for secondary EL students. We are collaborating with four states in this work, and as in our ODE/OSU partnership, we will be analyzing data for both current and former EL students. At a policy level, colleagues and I are involved in conversations about how data collection and reporting at the federal level could also incorporate analysis of data for both current and former EL students, including ways this might inform future reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

 

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Dr. Karen Thompson is an Associate Professor at the College of Education at Oregon State University. Her research focuses on how curriculum and instruction, teacher education and policy interact to share the classroom experiences of K-12 multilingual students.

 

Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for English Learner Program, National Center for Education Research.

CALM - Child Anxiety Learning Modules: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

Many elementary school students experience anxiety that interferes with learning and achievement, but few receive services. To expand the network of support for these young students, IES-funded researchers have turned to school nurses as a potential front-line resource. The Child Anxiety Learning Modules (CALM) intervention incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based strategies for school nurses to use when a child has vague somatic complaints that often signal underlying anxiety.

 

 

In 2014, IES funded a Development and Innovation grant to support the development of CALM to enhance the capacity of elementary school nurses to help children with anxiety. Based on promising findings of feasibility and reduced anxiety and fewer school absences, the development team is launching an initial efficacy trial this fall to investigate the scale up potential of the CALM intervention.

 

We asked the developers of CALM—Golda Ginsburg (University of Connecticut School of Medicine) and Kelly Drake (Founder/Director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Maryland; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)—to answer a few questions for our blog. Here’s what they answered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you describe how the CALM intervention was developed? What led you to develop an intervention for school nurses to implement?

We have been developing and evaluating psychosocial interventions for youth with anxiety for the last two decades, and we’ve learned a lot about effective, evidence-based strategies. We know that CBT, which consists of coping strategies that target the physical, cognitive, and behavioral manifestations of anxiety, is effective in helping youth manage and reduce anxiety. Unfortunately, we’ve also learned that most youth do not receive these—or any—services to help them. To address this gap in service utilization, our efforts have focused on ways of improving access to these therapeutic strategies by broadening the pool of potential providers. Given that early interventions can reduce the long-term consequences of untreated anxiety AND that youth with anxiety often complain of troublesome physical symptoms at school, we naturally thought of school nurses as a key provider with enormous potential. However, although nurses reported spending a lot of time addressing mental health issues, they received minimal training in doing so. That’s when the idea of the CALM intervention was born. We developed the initial CALM intervention using an iterative process in which versions of the intervention and its implementation procedures were sequentially refined in response to feedback from expert consultants, school nurses, children, parents, and school personnel until it was usable in the school environment by school nurses.

 

Was it part of the original plan to develop an intervention that could one day be used at scale in schools?

Yes—absolutely! Members of the National Association of School Nurses have been on our advisory team throughout to help us plan for how to scale up the intervention if we find it helps students.

 

What was critical to consider during the research to practice process?

A central focus was to minimize burden on school staff and to integrate the intervention within the goals and mission of schools’ interdisciplinary teams. Therefore, using a multidisciplinary support team was critical in taking the intervention from a research idea to an intervention that school nurses could delivered in their real-world practice setting—schools! As clinical psychologists, we also relied on our multidisciplinary team to ensure the intervention was usable by school nurses in terms of content and flexible and feasible for their busy school day. Indeed, school nurses and school nurse organizations provided critical support for the development of CALM with a focus on feasible strategies and methods for nurses to implement. They also provided invaluable feedback regarding perceived barriers to successful implementation of the intervention and adoption by nurses and school systems, and solutions to potential barriers and options for scaling up the intervention. We also relied on experts in school-based mental health programs and those with expertise in designing, evaluating, and implementing evidence-based prevention programs in schools. We also leveraged state-level expertise by consulting with school health experts in the Connecticut State Department of Education and the Connecticut Nurses Association regarding mental health education for nurses.

 

What model are you using for dissemination and sustainability?

A wide variety of methods will be used to disseminate findings from the current study to reach different stakeholders. We will present and publish findings at 1) national scientific and practitioner-oriented conferences, 2) Maryland and Connecticut State Departments of Education and participating school districts, and 3) in relevant peer-reviewed journals. In addition, should the findings reveal a beneficial impact of the intervention, we will have the final empirically supported training and intervention materials available for broad scale implementation. The CALM intervention will be packaged to include a training seminar, training videos, nurse intervention manual, child intervention handouts, consultation/coaching plan, and assessment materials. The research team will offer training seminars with all supporting materials to school nurse organizations at the national, state, and local levels. We will also engage nurse supervisors to identify nurses—or volunteer themselves—to become trainers for newly hired nurses in the future. Finally, our current Advisory Board, which consists of members of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), school nurses, and researchers with expertise in large scale school-based mental health program implementation and evaluation, will assist in broad dissemination and sustainability efforts.

 


Golda S. Ginsburg, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Adjunct Professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has over 25 years of experience developing and evaluating school-based interventions including school-based interventions for anxiety delivered by school clinicians, teachers, and nurses.

Kelly Drake, Ph.D., Founder/Director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Maryland, Research Consultant with UConn, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in the JHU School of Medicine has extensive training and experience in clinical research with anxious youth and training clinicians in delivering CBT for children.

This interview was produced by Emily Doolittle (Emily.doolittle@ed.gov) of the Institute of Education Sciences. This is part of an ongoing interview series with education researchers, developers, and partners who have successfully advanced IES-funded education research from the university laboratory to practice at scale.

Using Mistakes as a Vehicle for Learning in Mathematics: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

Every student makes mistakes. But not every student is given the opportunity to learn from mistakes. Left unaddressed, the mathematical misconceptions that underlie many mistakes can keep students from progressing in mathematics.

 

At the request of districts in the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN), a Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) team was convened in 2007 to address a widening achievement gap in Algebra I. The team was charged with identifying an intervention strategy, subject to several district constraints:

  1. The solution would need to be applied to all students in the regular classroom to avoid the stereotype threat associated with separating students based on performance and to protect the intervention from budget cuts that target supplemental, after-school, and summer programs first.
  2. A new curriculum was off the table because it would create upheaval for a time and would be followed by a decline in student performance during the period of adjustment.
  3. Extensive teacher training was considered undesirable because it would be costly and because algebra teachers consider themselves more expert in mathematics teaching than central office staff who would be requiring the training.

 

Julie Booth joined the partnership, and with funding from IES, led the iterative development and testing of worked example assignments that, with the input of teachers and administrators, fit within the routines of the classroom. The result—AlgebraByExample—consists of 42 uniquely designed assignments that address misconceptions, harness the power of explanation, and use mistakes as a vehicle for learning.

Typical math assignments require students to solve problems on their own. If a student’s work is incorrect, the student may never focus on what went wrong. ByExample assignments also give students problems to solve, but they first provide a solution to a similar problem that is marked right or wrong. Students are prompted with questions that target common misconceptions and errors before solving a similar problem on their own. Each assignment contains several strategically designed item pairs:

 

 

Designed in collaboration with teachers from districts in several states, the assignments can be easily incorporated into any Algebra I curriculum and teachers can choose in what way and in what order to use them. The assignments were tested in randomized trials in classrooms in eight districts with more than 6,000 students. Not only did students using AlgebraByExample improve an average of 7 percentage points on an assessment of standardized test items, students at the lower end of the distribution improved the most. The PDF downloads of the assignments are freely available for anyone to use.

The success of AlgebraByExample  led to  further IES funding of MathByExample for Grades 4 and 5 and GeometryByExample for high school geometry .

 

Resources:

AlgebraByExample website

MathByExample website

Booth et al, 2015

NSF Stem for All Video Submission 2019

 

Interview with Dr. Suzanne Donovan (SERP), Dr. Julie Booth (Temple University), and Allie Huyghe (SERP), the developers of the ByExample interventions.

 

 

Was it part of the original plan to develop an intervention that could one day be used at scale in schools?

Yes. SERP partnerships begin with problems of practice nominated by district partners, but the partnership agreement distinguishes SERP from a consultant. The intention from the start is to frame the problem and design a solution that can be used at scale. SERP has developed in-house, user-centered design expertise so that resources (such as the ByExample products) developed through partnerships meet the needs of teachers and students. Products scale when they improve the experience of teachers and students. Both the model and the internal design capacity allow SERP to move from problem framing through research, development, and dissemination of a product with IES grant funding.

 

Describe the initial research and development that occurred.

Dr. Julie Booth drafted initial assignments drawing on the mathematics misconceptions literature. SERP held regular partnership meetings with teachers and administrators at which assignments were reviewed and additional misconceptions were nominated for attention in the assignments. Administrators agreed to randomization of the assignments across classrooms and within-teacher. Assignments were first tested in individual topic blocks and revised in accordance with student performance data, observations, and teacher feedback. A year-long pilot study was then conducted using the full set of assignments.

 

Beyond IES or ED grants, what additional funding was needed to develop the intervention?

For the ByExample work, additional funding was provided by the Goldman Sachs Foundation in the initial phase to support partnership formation, problem framing, and the solution generation. IES grants funded the research and development, along with initial dissemination activities to make the materials available to the public. We were also able to develop an online platform to allow for digital use with the IES grant funds.

 

What model was used for dissemination and sustainability?

The assignments are available as free downloads on SERP’s website, and as printed workbooks through SERP’s partner print-on-demand company. They have been publicized through online communications, journal articles, presentations at conferences of various types, social media, and word of mouth. There will be a small fee for use of the digital platform to support its maintenance, but the PDFs will remain as free downloads. We have been able to sustain the collaboration of the partnership team by responding to requests from educators to expand the approach to other grade levels and submitting additional proposals to IES that have been awarded.

 

What advice would you provide to researchers who are looking to move their research from the lab to market? What steps should they take? What resources should they look for?

First, I would note that it is difficult to persuade educators to use a product that solves a problem they don’t believe they have. Listen to educators and apply research expertise to address the challenges that they experience on a day-to-day basis. Design for ease of use by teachers. No matter how good your strategy or marketing is, if it’s too much work for an already busy teacher to use, you may get uptake by a few committed teachers, but not at scale. Finally, pay attention to where teachers get their information. For AlgebraByExample, we got a big boost from the Marshall Report, produced by a teacher for other teachers to call attention to usable research.  

 

In one sentence, what would you say is most needed for gaining traction and wide scale use by educators?

Design for the routines of the classroom.

 


Suzanne Donovan, PhD, is the founding Executive Director of the SERP Institute, an education research, development, and implementation organization incubated at the National Academies. SERP leads collaborations of educators, researchers, and designers to generate research-based, scalable, and sustainable solutions to critical problems of practice. 

Julie Booth, PhD, is a Professor of STEM Education and Psychology and the Deputy Dean of Academic and Faculty Affairs at Temple University’s College of Education and Human Development. Her work focuses on translating between cognitive science and education to better understand students’ learning and improve instruction, primarily in mathematics education. She is currently an Executive Editor for the Journal of Experimental Education.

Allie Huyghe is the Assistant Director of the SERP Institute, where she manages several projects, including the IES-funded MathbyExample and GeometryByExample projects. She is also intricately involved with other SERP areas of work, participating in the design of materials from early development through release to the public.

 

This interview was produced by Christina Chhin (Christina.Chhin@ed.gov) and Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) of the Institute of Education Sciences. This is the fifth in an ongoing series of blog posts examining moving from university research to practice at scale in education.​