The other day, my 5 year-old daughter, Hunter, was playing ST Math and struggling on a level in one of the games. My wife stepped in to help and Hunter got upset, saying, "If you keep telling me the answers, I'll never learn, and I'll be the only one in the family who can't do these things!"
I was so proud of Hunter for wanting to do things herself, and wanting to work through the struggle. In the education world we call this “grit” and developing a “growth mindset”; the characteristics necessary for kids to engage in productive struggle, the kind of effortful learning that builds deeper understanding of mathematics.
At my daughter’s age, I know that she’s eager to learn math and to be able to do things that I can do, my wife can do and her older brother can do. And I know with proper encouragement, and Hunter’s continued persistence, she will get there. But I also know there’s an alarming trend with girls and math-- where studies show that this determination and eagerness declines rapidly around middle school. Their interest in math and science decreases and they become less likely to pursue the growing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) innovation careers awaiting the next generations (Generation STEM).
Recently, I sat down with two women with successful STEM careers and asked them how they became interested in STEM and what they think is needed to get more young women pursuing degrees and careers in math and science.
Adrianna Leung uses math to build biometric applications as a software engineer at MorphoTrak, a company specializing in identity and digital security. She grew up loving math and shares in this video how integral math and problem solving are to her work:
In this video, MorphoTrak CEO Celeste Thomassen talks more about the company’s innovative products and the very sophisticated mathematics needed to create their cutting-edge technology. She shares her vision for getting more girls interested in STEM careers:
At MIND Research Institute, I get the privilege of making frequent visits to schools where I see elementary-aged girls excited about math and problem solving, and in them I can see future Adriannas and Celestes. I see it in my daughter, Hunter, as well. But how do we make sure they get there? That their interest and passion for math doesn’t waver, and their eagerness to learn doesn’t get extinguished?
We’re already seeing evidence that ST Math is helping to build grit and perseverance among all students. To further address this need, MIND Research Institute is partnering with Million Women Mentors to get more girls and young women on the path to STEM careers. In fact, we’ve committed to connecting 100,000 girls to mentors by 2020 because mentorships that connect young girls to STEM professionals can significantly increase the number of women who pursue and succeed in STEM fields (Stoeger et.al., 2013; Etzkowitz, 2000).
Let’s ensure that our girls maintain their grit, enthusiasm and curiosity for STEM learning through programs like ST Math and mentorship activities!
About the Author
Matthew Peterson, Ph.D., is Co-founder and Chief Research & Development Officer at the MIND Research Institute. The creator of ST Math, Matthew leads a team in developing innovative learning environments.