Graduation Date

5-2020

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree

Master of Science

Program

Education

Program Director

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

First Reader

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

Second Reader

Annie Reid, MLIS, CA

Abstract

Math gender gap research shows girls’ math self-efficacy to be correlated with their interest in pursuing higher levels of math education and STEM career opportunities. Most math gender gap studies have used only quantitative approaches, thereby missing the opportunity to gain deeper perspectives directly from girls who are steadfastly facing the math gender gap. This study centered around two small focus groups of girls attending a unique secondary school where every afternoon is fully dedicated to deep engagement with higher-level mathematics. Additionally, parents of girls at the school were surveyed to provide further insight into possible sources of their daughter’s math self-efficacy. The research aimed to identify common experiences that had contributed to the girls’ math self-efficacy to inform strategies that parents, teachers, administrators, and educational policymakers can implement to increase math self-efficacy for girls. The findings unexpectedly revealed that these girls had experienced obstacles to their math self-efficacy during elementary school, which created a disinterest or dislike of math within school. However, the findings also showed the foundational significance of family math experiences and role models towards building the girls’ math self-efficacy. Importantly, only through nonstandard opportunities beyond regular math in school did the girls begin to identify their math self-efficacy. Furthermore, the crucial insight gained through the study was how fragile math self-efficacy is, even among girls who have a strong math foundation, and how important it is to create the opportunities and environments to nurture girls’ math self-efficacy throughout their education.

Comments

Acknowledgments

I would especially like to thank my thesis advisor, Jennifer Lucko, Ph.D., whose amazing balance of challenge and support along with brilliant and thoughtful insight have guided this research journey. Thank you to my second reader, Annie Reid, MLIS, CA, for her thoughtful work as well as insight from her background as a female in STEM (Physics). Thank you to my inspiring and remarkable writing group friends, who made this year so much more fun — Jennie, Emily, and Deema. Infinite gratitude goes out to my family including all of my parents and parent-in-laws, who have been pillars of support in endless ways – thank you for the uplifting text messages at just the right times during this process. To my husband Alex, thank you for always supporting and encouraging me to work toward my goals and to enjoy the present. To my son Trey, thank you for readily listening to my endless explanations of the research process and for truly caring about how things were going — I hope that you will thoroughly enjoy your future research projects during college. To my daughter Anya, thank you for your expert grammar advice and hugs — I hope your math self-efficacy will continue to grow along with your other areas of expertise throughout high school and beyond.

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