Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
American teenagers are continuing to slip in the rankings of high school achievement internationally, according to the results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Americans were found to be roughly average in science and reading, but below the international average in math. NBC News has more:
Vietnam, which had its students take part in the exam for the first time, had a higher average score in math and science than the United States. Students in Shanghai — China’s largest city with upwards of 20 million people — ranked best in the world, according to the test results. Students in East Asian countries and provinces came out on top, nabbing seven of the top 10 places across all three subjects.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan characterized the flat scores as a “picture of educational stagnation.”
“We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators,” Duncan said.
Roughly half a million students in 65 nations and educational systems representing 80 percent of the global economy took part in the 2012 edition of PISA, which is coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.
The numbers are even more sobering when compared among only the 34 OECD countries. The United States ranked 26th in math — trailing nations such as the Slovakia, Portugal and Russia.
The exam, which has been administered every three years to 15-year-olds, is designed to gauge how students use the material they have learned inside and outside the classroom to solve problems.
U.S. scores on the PISA have stayed relatively flat since testing began in 2000. And meanwhile, students in countries like Ireland and Poland have demonstrated marked improvement — even surpassing U.S. students, according to the results.
Top Talkers: Teenagers are making no progress on international achievement exams, the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment results show. Jon Meacham, Julie Pace and Mike Barnicle discuss.
“It’s hard to get excited about standing still while others around you are improving, so I don’t want to be too positive,” Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told the Associated Press.
Image: Students taking a test, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
As the holiday shopping season heats up, so does the debate over GoldieBlox, the toy marketed to girls and promising to encourage them to develop “STEM,” or “science, technology, engineering, math” interests in girls. The public conversation about the toy, which some parents love but others say are neither gender neutral nor imagination-inspiring, is bringing to center stage a decades-old debate over how girls learn, play–and are marketed to. Time.com has more:
This earnest educational toy might have gone unnoticed amidst the babies and Barbies if it weren’t for a hit viral video ad campaign showing little girls getting bored with a princess show and leaping up to create a giant Rube Goldberg machine out of toys.
The ad — which earned over eight million views on YouTube before a new version was posted due to a legal dispute over music use — has reignited a simmering debate: are playthings that encourage girls to become moms and beauty queens to blame for the dearth of women in the sciences? And if that’s true, what’s the best way to create toys that encourage girls to develop engineering and science skills? Some think building toys appealing directly to girls like GoldieBlox is the answer, while others want a more gender-neutral approach. And there are those who want to blow up the current pink-and-blue aisle segregation of toys altogether.
Most experts agree that the pink aisle does have a negative impact on girls’ interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. “Wanting to be a doctor or architect or cook, that really begins when you’re young and walking around with a stethoscope or playing with an Easy Bake oven,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of toy industry consulting firm Global Toy Experts.
Gender identification begins around preschool, when children’s brains are most susceptible to definitions of gender according to Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain. And when youngsters enter the aisle labeled for girls, the only STEM options they’re really offered are chemistry sets that help create makeup or building blocks to construct pet grooming shops. (By contrast, boys’ chemistry kits usually allow them to create anything from icky goo to things that blow up to food.)
By the time kids reach third grade, there’s a real divide between boys and girls when it comes to STEM-related ambitions. A 2009 poll by the American Society for Quality of children 8 to 17, 24 percent of boys said they were interested in a career engineering, but only five percent of girls said the same. And that gap continues with adults: Just 11% of engineers are women—a fact that GoldieBlox’s creators note prominently on their site—and only about a quarter of STEM degrees go to women and it’s not about aptitude. Several international studies have shown that the gender difference in math and science are a by-product of culture, not biology. But quantifying cultural influences is complicated. The United States has one of the biggest gender gaps in math and science scores, but it’s impossible to know how much of an effect changing the toy aisles would have. In parts of Asia for example, there are plenty of dolls in the stores, but there’s a much smaller math gender gap for a host of other cultural reasons, like a better gender balance of teachers in schools.
We do know however that in the U.S. the pink aisle has gotten much more pink over the years. Global Toy Experts conducted a survey of 1,700 American moms three years ago asking them to compare the toys they played with growing up to those that their daughters were playing with today. They found a 25 percent drop across the board in girls playing with toys that would be considered gender-neutral or male (like construction or science kit toys).
True, as toy stores have gotten pinker, women have made more progress in the workplace. All those cute little vacuum cleaners and mini baby bottles haven’t discouraged girls from going to college or excelling in academic fields other than science. Women make up the majority of undergrads and are entering law school in equal numbers to men. So it’s clear that gendered toys aren’t entirely to blame for the dearth of female engineers—a myriad of reasons from lack or mentors to childhood development contribute as well.
But the lack of STEM role models for young girls in popular culture is something that experts say is an issue when it comes to changing girls’ attitudes toward math and science careers in the first place.
“There’s Bob the Builder, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Jimmy Neutron—they’re all boys with IQs off the chart. That’s intimidating for all kids, but particularly for girls who suffer from this thing called math anxiety where they have really, really high standards for themselves when it comes to math,” says Debbie Sterling, creator of GoldieBlox who thought of the toy after graduating from Stanford, frustrated with how few women there were in her chemical engineering program there. “If they don’t get an A+ on something, then they think they’re just naturally not inclined or born with it.”
Sterling’s solution to this problem was to create a toy designed for the way girls think. Goldie is a female role model who neither fit the born-genius trope (Goldie makes mistakes and learns from them) nor the nerdy anti-social brunette girl with glasses—a stereotypical character found in many kids’ shows. (Think Velma from Scooby Doo or Gretchen from Recess.) Another set of Stanford grads has also gone that route. Their invention, Roominate, offers girls the experience of building a working circuited dollhouse in pastel colors.
But why make science and engineering toys girly at all? Why not just make all of them gender neutral? “I love the GolideBlox toys. I think they’re really smart,” says Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate at the University of California Davis, who has studied gender coding in toys. “But I think that by sort of highlighting and simplifying the differences between boys and girls, these things may have the unintended effect of further reinforcing the stereotypes that girls are inherently less capable and need extra stimulation.”
Image: Girl, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
The popular children’s clothing store The Children’s Place has apologized after a photo of a t-shirt went viral and prompted accusations that the shirt perpetuates the stereotype that girls are more interested in shopping than math. As Boston.com reports, the store apologized via Twitter, saying, “We take feedback from our customers seriously. We pulled the tshirt from our stores and express apologies to anyone we may have offended.”
Apparently there are at least two versions of the shirt, with one customer, who purchased her shirt in Canada, posting a photo that shows the “Math” box checked along with “Shopping,” “Music,” and “Dancing.”
The company’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments from some parents who are enraged at the shirt’s seemingly anti-intellectual message, and others who feel the issue is much ado about nothing.
Image via Twitter
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Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
A set of skills involved in recognizing and processing numbers can predict by the first grade how well a child will perform in math in their later school years, ongoing math cognition research at the National Institutes of Health is discovering. More from NBC News:
About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lacks the math competence expected of a middle-schooler, meaning they have trouble with those ordinary tasks and aren’t qualified for many of today’s jobs.
“It’s not just, can you do well in school? It’s how well can you do in your life,” says Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which is funding much of this research into math cognition. “We are in the midst of math all the time.”
A new study shows trouble can start early.
University of Missouri researchers tested 180 seventh-graders. Those who lagged behind their peers in a test of core math skills needed to function as adults were the same kids who’d had the least number sense or fluency way back when they started first grade.
“The gap they started with, they don’t close it,” says Dr. David Geary, a cognitive psychologist who leads the study that is tracking children from kindergarten to high school in the Columbia, Mo., school system. “They’re not catching up” to the kids who started ahead.
If first grade sounds pretty young to be predicting math ability, well, no one expects tots to be scribbling sums. But this number sense, or what Geary more precisely terms “number system knowledge,” turns out to be a fundamental skill that students continually build on, much more than the simple ability to count.
What’s involved? Understanding that numbers represent different quantities — that three dots is the same as the numeral “3″ or the word “three.” Grasping magnitude — that 23 is bigger than 17. Getting the concept that numbers can be broken into parts — that 5 is the same as 2 and 3, or 4 and 1. Showing on a number line that the difference between 10 and 12 is the same as the difference between 20 and 22.
Factors such as IQ and attention span didn’t explain why some first-graders did better than others. Now Geary is studying if something that youngsters learn in preschool offers an advantage.
Image: Young schoolchild doing math, via Shutterstock
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Friday, March 15th, 2013
Parents have been found to emphasize educational math activities at home far less than other academic pursuits like reading and paying attention, the result of which is American children lagging behind in math skills. A new study from PBS KIDS found that many parents do not know that research places math skills at kindergarten age as a greater predictor of academic achievement later in life than reading or other skills.
PBS’s “It All Adds Up” study was conducted in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and presented at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas. Some of the major findings:
- Nearly 30% of parents reported anxiety about teaching their child math. Anxiety is even greater for moms (33%) and parents with an education level of high school or less (32%).
- 60% percent of parents of 5-8-year-olds practice math daily with their kids, whereas only half of parents of 2-4-year-olds do; Parents are also more likely to practice reading skills with their kids than they are to practice math.
- Parents place less emphasis on math, since they view other skills as “the greatest predictor of achievement later in life,” ranking reading and literacy (26%) and the ability to pay attention and work hard (47%) as most indicative versus math (14%).
Encouragingly, the survey found that 84 percent of parents believe it is important to support their child’s learning with home-based activities, and PBS KIDS is developing mobile apps and other resources for parents to use to bring more math into their home learning.
“The early years of life are most critical for learning both literacy and math; in fact, many children do not realize their full potential in mathematics because they are not getting consistent support from a young age,” said Lesli Rotenberg, General Manager, Children’s Programming, PBS, in a statement. “The good news is that there are simple things parents can do to support early math learning that can all add up to make a big difference. We know that parents trust PBS KIDS and look to us for ways to support their kids’ learning, and we are excited to offer parents and caregivers free resources they can use on their mobile phones or computers, and offline activity ideas that make anytime a learning time.”
Image: Child doing math, via Shutterstock
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