July 24, 2013

New Ways to Teach Math and Engage More Students in STEM Studies Among Presentations at APA's 121st Annual Convention

Experts to discuss new research that challenges traditional approaches and ideas


Promising new methods to help American schoolchildren get up to speed in math, encouraging more students to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and findings that challenge long-held theories on why more boys than girls pursue STEM careers will be explored in separate sessions at the American Psychological Association’s 121st Annual Convention. 


All presentations listed below will take place at the Hawai’i Convention Center, 1801 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, Hawai'i.


Nicole M. McNeil, PhD, University of Notre Dame, will present, “Disadvantages of Teaching 2 + 2 = 4: Knowledge of Traditional Arithmetic Hinders Understanding of Math Equivalence,” (PDF, 189KB) plenary session 4279, Saturday, Aug. 3, 3-3:50 p.m. HST, room 313A 

How simple arithmetic is taught to young American schoolchildren could explain why they are behind in math scores when compared to students in other industrialized countries. This requires changing how math is taught from the start, according to McNeil. "Well over 90 percent of elementary schoolchildren in China solve mathematical equivalence problems correctly, compared to only about 20 percent of children the same age in the U.S.," McNeil says. She will cite recent research that suggests this may be due in part to differences in the format and sequence of problems that children learn.

McNeil will discuss American students’ difficulty in understating the concept of equivalence in math and describe a recent experiment in which one group of second graders using a nontraditional arithmetic practice workbook gained a better understanding of math equivalence compared to a group using a traditional workbook. The advantage persisted for five to six months. 

Anthony C. Derriso, MEd, University of Alabama, will present “Intent to Pursue STEM Occupations in a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Ninth-Graders,” (PDF, 55KB) poster session 4076, Saturday, Aug. 3, 9-9:50 a.m. HST, Kamehameha Exhibit Hall, level 1 

Why more boys than girls say they intend to pursue a STEM career most likely has nothing to do with gender stereotypes or teachers’ treating boys and girls differently, according to Derriso.

He will present findings from a recent analysis that revealed U.S. ninth-graders didn’t think boys and girls are different in their math and science abilities and that they felt their math and science teachers treated them equally. When boys and girls personally identified with math or science, there were again no differences between the sexes. However, boys made up 61 percent of ninth-graders who said they intended to pursue a STEM career. 

The analysis is based on data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 with a nationally representative sample of more than 21,000 ninth-graders in 944 schools from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. "We’re going to have to reconsider the long-held associations between traditional gender stereotypes and achievement and explore what is motivating students to make decisions about their careers," says Derriso.

Rena Subotnik, PhD, director of the APA Center for Psychology in Schools and Education, will present “The Need for Innovators in STEM,” (PDF, 253KB) symposium session 5130, Sunday, Aug. 4, 11-11:50 a.m. HST, room 303B

Nearly half of science-oriented students are not pursuing STEM degrees to completion, according to a 2012 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Subotnik will discuss a potential solution to help fill the national need for future STEM innovators with artists, particularly those in visual and performing arts fields.

"Based on an analysis comparing the preparation of creative scholars and performers, we argue that visual and performing artists bring several advantages to the table based on their unique preparation and training, including a rigorously disciplined approach to work, highly developed aesthetic sense, and mental skills that allow for strategic risk taking," Subotnik says. 

A challenge to engaging dually talented individuals in STEM is that it requires two areas of course work and credentials. Completing a design engineering course, for example, may prove too arduous for a painter or sculptor with poor preparation in advanced mathematics. Finding the right approach to address this issue will have enormous benefits for creative advancement in science, technology and engineering, Subotnik says. 

Nicole M. McNeil can be contacted by email or by phone at (574) 631-5678

Anthony C. Derriso can be contacted by email or by phone at (205) 348-7575

Rena Subotnik can be contacted by email or by phone at (202) 336-5923

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.