As opposed to my amazing blogging peers, I have not had a second (until just now) to sit down on my computer and write about what I’ve been doing. The good news (I guess) is that I’ve been doing a lot! One such thing was to participate in a Project NExT panel on How to Successfully Enhance Cultural Diversity in the Mathematics Classroom and Beyond . I was joined by Darryl Yong, from Harvey Mudd College, and Richard Laugesen, from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
I was asked to talk about stereotype threat and implicit bias, Darryl talked more about how to create an inclusive classroom, and Rick wrapped this up by talking about diversity among math majors, graduate students, and faculty. Let me start by saying what I said in the beginning of the panel: my imposter syndrome was seriously triggered by being next to these two amazing and accomplished people, having a full room of Project NExTers and friends, and being somehow considered an expert in topics that I do not feel I’m an expert in. However, I have had some personal experience with all of these things, so I decided that it would be useful to share some of the definitions, but also examples from my own life relating to the definitions. Also, I wanted to make sure to share some of the resources that really helped me. I had to reread and re-research a few things that I knew a long time ago – often I remember the research as stories (“there was this one time that some researchers primed White men by telling them that Asian men usually do better in that math test, and the White men underperformed!”) rather than the exact article (it’s this one). I was actually very happy to do this, since I think now with more experience I understand these things a lot better, and have a better sense of what the solutions in the classroom should be. My friend Brian said that the best part was my summary of Jo Boaler’s recommendations from her book Mathematical Mindsets, so I thought I would share them again here! So, to ensure that all math students have an equal chance to succeed, Boaler recommends the following:
- Offer high-level content
- Change ideas on who can achieve in mathematics (the movie “Hidden Figures” is doing exactly that!)
- Encourage deep thinking
- Encourage students to work in groups/collaborate
- Give additional/intentional encouragement to women and students of color.
- Make work meaningful (not busy work/too much homework).
The other panelists were, as expected, really really great. Darryl Yong touched on some of the topics I mentioned, but in my opinion did so more eloquently, for example, the fact that active learning classrooms satisfy all the conditions I outlined above, and has been shown to benefit everyone, but most importantly it levels the playing field for women and students of color. So why wouldn’t you want to use more active teaching methods? He was also careful to say that there is no one way to do this, just that empowering the student to be in charge of their learning can do wonders for feelings of belonging and for succeeding in STEM. One more thing he mentioned that I thought was very important was that one needs to be transparent: explain to your students why you are teaching the way you are, share this research with them, give clear expectations (write them down!), be honest about how they will be evaluated and what you value most. This has also been shown to improve performance in math classes.
Rick Laugesen told us about all the amazing things he and his colleagues have been doing to increase diversity and retention in their undergraduate and graduate programs at UIUC, in particular his amazing work with mentoring. He was the recipient of a Sloan Foundation award for the project “Making way for a New Generation in STEM: A Proposal for The Illinois Sloan University Center of Exemplary Mentoring” ($1 million) in 2015, and they are putting the money to good use. What was most impressive to me was that he looks at the potential of a student, rather than previous accomplishments, in order to decide whether they will get into the graduate program. For example, they look at the GRE subject test, but they don’t really use it as a way to weed out students. That is certainly a good way to even the playing field.
But I guess my favorite thing about participating in the panel, besides learning from my fellow panelists, was sharing ideas and knowledge with my younger peers, and listening to their careful comments and questions. It didn’t necessarily eliminate my imposter syndrome, but at the very least I felt like I had something important to contribute, while at the same time knowing that I have a lot more to learn. Not bad for an afternoon.