The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Reforming math education to improve STEM success for diverse students

Jeffrey Starns, Andrew Cohen, Darrell Earnest

From left: Jeffrey Starns (psychological & brain sciences), Andrew Cohen (psychological & brain Sciences), and Darrell Earnest (teacher education and curriculum studies)

Developing more inclusive educational practices for mathematical concepts is critical for promoting STEM diversity. Students from underrepresented groups face unique challenges in STEM  fields, and the math-heavy content of STEM classes exacerbates this problem. Students from racial/ethnic minority groups are less likely to have a strong math background, and women are more likely to have negative attitudes about their math skill level.

In this IDS funded project, Associate Professors Jeffrey Starns (Psychological and Brain Sciences), Andrew Cohen (Psychological and Brain Sciences) and Darrell Earnest (Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies) are working together to develop and test an instructional program in probabilistic reasoning that is designed to help students overcome both objective and subjective math challenges by linking mathematical concepts to an intuitive visualization. They are creating an instructional module based on the visualization technique and compare it to a standard, equation-based module.  Participants in the study include both low- and high-scoring students on a test of general math abilities. Starns, Cohen, and Earnest predict that the visualization module will be particularly helpful for students who struggle with math. These results will provide valuable pilot data for grant proposals that we are preparing for the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program at the NSF.