Tuesday, February 20, 2018

4 Ways to Promote Gender Equity in Your Classroom

By Jessica DeshlerWest Virginia University

There is something beautiful about the structure of mathematics that we can all appreciate, but it’s equally beautiful because it can be creative and messy. So is the teaching of mathematics. As mathematicians, we know and understand the complexities involved in our discipline, but sometimes overlook the underlying complexities of our classroom environment when preparing to teach.

You’ve likely heard about the leaky pipeline – the phenomenon that describes the loss of women from STEM fields at various points in the academic pipeline. Because many undergraduate women leave the STEM pipeline after taking a mathematics course, our discipline can especially benefit from classroom practices known to help retain and support these students.

You might wonder whether the gender breakdown in our classes or variation in our students’ cultural and social backgrounds matter. We posit that these do matter, and that they can impact whether students are comfortable contributing to discussions, volunteering to present work on the board, or seeking help during office hours. We have some control, though, over how social interactions affect learning in our classrooms. Below are several ways you can support gender equity in your classroom. These techniques are meant to be inclusive and support all students, but are particularly important and empowering for undergraduate women in our classrooms. Links are included for suggestions that have appeared in previous Teaching Tidbits posts.

  • Don’t be the Authority in the Classroom. Help your students find ways to stop relying on you as the expert, and use the authority inherent in mathematics to become the experts. Through collaborative activities, students can express themselves and their mathematical ideas to their peers, developing self-reliance and focusing on the mathematics, not what the instructor says
  •  Language Matters. Research has shown that even in elementary school, acknowledging the gender of our students reinforces stereotypes. While we might not be saying ‘boys and girls’ in our Calculus classes, we are certainly using language that affects our students. This recent Teaching Tidbits post provides several ways for us to use language inclusively to support our students’ identities as mathematicians including statements like “When a mathematician approaches this problem, she…” or “When you explain it like that, you are really thinking like a mathematician.” 
  •  Don’t Lecture. If you’re reading Teaching Tidbits, chances are you are interested in doing more than lecturing to your students. However, lecturing is still the preferred teaching method of many mathematics instructors. Research has shown us over and over that interactive teaching is one of the best ways to reduce the gender gap in achievement, and a 2014 report told us just how much we were neglecting all students when using only lecture in our classrooms. Moving from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’ is a powerful way to give all students, especially women, the opportunity to engage in classroom activities and discussions. One technique for providing this type of classroom experience is through Inquiry Based Learning, described in a recent post with some resources here.
  • Know Your Own Biases. One of the most important social interaction factors that can play out in our classroom is implicit bias. Before we can address any bias we see in our students, we need to understand our own biases. These freely accessible Implicit Association Tests allow us to face biases we might not know we’re carrying with us and help us to become more equitable instructors.

Additional related resources:

 Deshler, J. & Burroughs, E., (2013). Teaching Mathematics with Women in Mind, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, http://www.ams.org/notices/201309/rnoti-p1156.pdf.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

MAA IP Guide – Assessment

By Rick Cleary (guest blogger), Babson College

A note from the Editors: This semester Teaching Tidbits will have several posts highlighting the new Instructional Practices Guide (IP Guide) from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). The MAA has a long tradition of reporting what content should be taught in the mathematics classroom through its Curriculum Guide; now the new IP Guide addresses how things could be taught in the mathematics classroom, how one could to design that experience, and how one could assess that experience. The suggested practices are well grounded in research on student learning. In our first post about the IP Guide, we dive deeper into the Assessment Practices section of the guide. Thanks to Rick Cleary, a lead writer for this section, for providing this post.
The opening statement of the Assessment chapter of the MAA Instructional Practices guide makes the following claim: Effective assessment occurs when we clearly state high-quality goals for student learning, give students frequent informal feedback about their progress toward these goals, and evaluate student growth and proficiency based on these goals. The chapter details some of the ways that effective assessment can be implemented in various types of courses. Many of the same assessment principles apply, whether you are from a big or small school, whether you teach large or small numbers of students, no matter what your lecture/active learning balance, on or off-line, developmental courses through graduate seminars. This portion of the IP Guide is designed to get colleagues thinking and talking about grounding both formative assessments that take place throughout the course and summative assessments at the end of a course in appropriate learning goals.

There is a fine line between assessments that are challenging and assessments that are discouraging. Once students become discouraged, it is hard to get them back on track. For example, traditional lecture-based instruction methods have been associated with traditional summative assessment procedures such as timed exams with questions in very specific formats. Recent research in mathematics education recommends classroom practices that provide ongoing lower stakes assessment to promote student engagement. New technology such as clickers and online polls or quizzes can help faculty provide these types of opportunities. Through vignettes grounded in the experience of the writers, the IP Guide illustrates these developments, providing instructors the tools they need to be creative as they design appropriate and equitable assessments for their courses.

The IP Guide chapter on Assessment provides both a research framework and practical tips needed to implement effective assessments that encourage, rather than discourage, student learning. It considers ways to make assessment consistent with course design and practice to promote effective learning for all students. Rather than seeing assessment as a mandate from an administration or an accrediting agency, the IP guide shows there is great value in creating a positive culture of assessment for students, faculty and departments.

Download a copy of the MAA Instructional Practices Guide today.