What makes a “math person”? What is it that causes people to pursue majors and careers in math and other STEM disciplines where mathematics is crucial to success?

The National Science Foundation has recently supported a study by Professor Zahra Hazari at Florida International University’s STEM Transformation Institute. Professor Hazari worked with colleagues at Harvard University and Western Kentucky University to interview over 9000 college students taking calculus.

What they found was that it’s not simply about math competence and confidence. Students reported that they developed interest and positive attitudes toward math, and had received recognition from family, teachers and other students. So they responded positively when asked if they saw themselves as a “math person”.

According to Professor Haazari, “We really have to engage students in more meaningful ways through their own interests and help them overcome challenges and recognize them for doing so. If we want to empower students and provide access to STEM careers, it can’t just be about confidence and performance. Attitudes and personal motivation matters immensely.”

Some recommendations for teachers:

Have high standards

Be generous with praise

Look for ways to connect math to the real world

These are good recommendations for all students in math courses, not just those who end up as “math people”. The point here is that both weaker students and the stronger students benefit from encouragement and engagement.

A blog about the study, including a link to the full report “Establishing an Explanatory Model for Mathematics Identity”, can be found at the NEA Today web site:

Curriki has developed courses in Algebra, Geometry and Calculus for high school students with support from AT&T for the first two and Huawei, for the Calculus course. These adhere to standards, and are project-based, to help make the subjects more relevant to the outside world. You can find those courses here:

Here are 5 excellent sites for free STEM resources.

1. NASA’s TeachStation

The site TeachStation has resources about the International Space Station and STEM activities on the ISS. Included are student projects and a series of videos demonstrating STEM concepts for students in the middle grades and high school. Concepts covered include Newton’s laws, microgravity, and surface tension. TeachStation is at this link:

2. National Repository of Open Educational Resources, India

India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development has established a National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER). It has a range of resources across grade levels and subjects, and available in multiple languages.

You can access the site at http://nroer.in/home/ and it includes videos, audio, images, documents and interactive modules. It has a useful concept map to facilitate browsing.

The NROER site has this to say about their resources: “Categorised and made into collections, the resources are mapped to concepts that will span the entire school and teacher education curricula of the country.”

3. MIT Highlights for High School

MIT OpenCourseWare provides resources primarily at the university level, but they also have a significant number of STEM resources for high school students. They have specifically curated resources, including selections from college-level courses, for use by high school teachers andd students. You can learn more at: http://ocw.mit.edu/high-school/index.htm

“This is a collection of some of the best open-licensed educational resources that can be used in K-12, as well as other useful related information.”

5. Curriki – Free Learning Resources for the World

We save the best for last, naturally. Curriki now has over 62,000 open source resources in total, and the majority of these are STEM-related. For example a search on mathematics results in over 13,000 resource listings. You will likely find many materials that you can put to use in the classroom, up to including full courses such as Curriki Algebra and Curriki Geometry. Try our search function today.

If you know a math teacher or a student who’s interested in math, please tell them about Curriki. Did you know we offer more than 15,000 free online math open educational resources (OERs)? Here are our most popular math resources over the past year.

Teaching Fractions – this collection includes lessons and videos, including “Fraction Operations” and “Fun with Fractions.”

Math for Americas: Lessons, Activities and Problems – designed for middle and high school students, this includes collections of lessons, activities, and problems organized by subject (pre-algebra, trigonometry, calculus, statistics, geometry and more).

Curriki Geometry PBL Modules – Curriki Geometry comprises six Common Core State Standards (CCSS)- aligned projects. The projects are available in both PDF format for easy download and in an online course format at www.currikigeometry.org.

Division (video) from Khan Academy – This video is an introduction to division: what it means and how to do it. You can find links to many other Khan Academy video resources here.

For Students: Project-based Pre-Algebra – This unit is meant to provide supplemental support to a standard Pre-Algebra course and is meant to connect the world of math to that of art. These projects follow the typical sequence of a standard 7th/8th grade Pre-Algebra course.

Relationships between Quantities and Reasoning with Equations – By the end of eighth grade, students have learned to solve linear equations in one variable and have applied graphical and algebraic methods to analyze and solve systems of linear equations in two variables. This unit builds on these earlier experiences by asking students to analyze and explain the process of solving an equation.

Mathematics – This collection is a full course of material in the form of a textbook provided by FHSST (Free High School Science Texts). FHSST is a project that aims to provide free science and mathematics textbooks for Grades 10 to 12 science learners.

Area of a Triangle – This lesson walks students through a classic optimization problem involving building the maximum area of a triangle, expressed in terms of an angle. The lesson uses a worksheet in The Geometers Sketchpad.

Curriki Algebra – These modules are based upon the domains and Common Core State Standards clusters. They contain daily lessons based on the four algebra domains and the standards and standard clusters found within. The daily lessons are based on 50-minute sessions and build up to a culminating project-based activity.

Math eTextbooks– A collection of free math eTextbooks including algebra, statistics and probability, calculus, geometry and more.

Please help us spread the word and share this list with a friend or colleague!

While girls show a lot of interest in science during elementary school, the interest often fades in the later grades. Around 2/3 of girls in the U.S. at the fourth grade level express an interest in science and/or math subjects.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that about 24% of the jobs in STEM (science, technology and math) fields are currently occupied by women. The gender imbalance is particularly notable in the physical sciences and in engineering fields, while women are better represented in the life sciences.

In computer science there is a very large imbalance, and yet this is a field where many jobs go begging today – there are hundreds of thousands of software development jobs in the U.S. in this field which are unfilled at present.

Verizon has developed a wonderful “Inspire Her Mind” commercial –

The message of the commercial is – don’t discourage girls from “getting their hands dirty” with science or engineering projects. Rather, encourage their curiosity and their interest in these fields.

Curriki contains a wealth of resources in STEM subjects, even full courses in math including algebra and geometry. And of course developing math strengths is key to pursuing majors and careers in science and technology fields.

Here’s information on one project to address the gender gap in software development – it is a global effort to teach 1 million girls to write computer code and develop applications.

As CNET reports: “A new initiative aims to teach women how to create apps and launch their own startups, with the aim to reach one million people by 2025″. There has been progress in certain areas. For example, the number of women involved in the gaming industry, one of the largest for new software development opportunities, has increased from 11% to 22% in recent years.

Sheree Atcheson, Software Engineer and @WomenWhoCode UK Founder

Curriki also has resources to help girls, and boys, learn to code, including the Oracle Academy courses for Java, one of today’s most important programming languages.

Curriki’s purpose is to broaden educational opportunity in K-12 for students in all countries, including supporting greater participation by girls in the various STEM fields. These fields are so critical to future job opportunities for students and to the progress of humanity around the world, whether through the life sciences, physical sciences, or engineering.

At Curriki, we believe that math does not have to be boring. One institution that shares this belief and brings it to life is the National Museum of Mathematics (a.k.a. MoMath) in Manhattan, New York City. It is the only museum in the U.S. devoted purely to math.

Science News said the museum is “the antidote to math phobia”. MoMath stresses interactive exhibits so that one can gain an understanding of math concepts by doing and exploring.

According to the MoMath website:

The National Museum of Mathematics strives to enhance public understanding and perception of mathematics. Its dynamic exhibits and programs will stimulate inquiry, spark curiosity, and reveal the wonders of mathematics. The Museum’s activities will lead a broad and diverse audience to understand the evolving, creative, human, and aesthetic nature of mathematics.

The museum was established at the end of 2012 to promote the understanding and importance of mathematics, and to present math concepts in a fun and engaging way. A particular focus is placed on kids in the middle grades (4th grade through 8th grade) but there are attractions for kids of all ages and adults as well.

In addition, there are a large number of lecture videos on various math topics available at the MoMath web site and on YouTube as well, go to http://momath.org/gallery/ to access these.

The museum’s approach is compatible with the principles behind project-based learning. Curriki has developed two mathematics courses built around the project-based learning methodology. These are for Algebra and Geometry and can be accessed here:

If you live in or happen to visit New York City, we encourage you to take your class or your own children to visit the National Museum of Mathematics. You’ll probably have fun too!

Even when girls and boys demonstrate similar actual competence levels in math, during the early school years, boys are more confident about their math skills. Already by kindergarten, boys have more interest in pursuing math learning than do girls.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related jobs are some of the best jobs out there, and increasingly important in our technology-driven economy. But the percentage of women in many STEM jobs remains very low. Only about 1/4 of STEM jobs in the U.S. are filled by women. Women’s share of computer jobs has actually been falling in recent years. At present, only 18% of U.S. computer science majors are women.

According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, women in STEM professions earn 33% more than those in other fields.

It’s generally understood that by school age, girls receive less encouragement in math and science pursuits than do boys, from both parents and teachers. What’s interesting is that it now seems this bias starts from a very early age, less than the age of 2 years!

In a study entitled “Gender Biases in Early Number Exposure to Preschool-Aged Children”, published in 2011 in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, researchers at the University of Delaware found that mothers spent fully twice as much time talking to their sons about numbers and numeric concepts as they did with their daughters! The average age of the children in the study was only 22 months, for both the boys and the girls.

Here’s a related set of resources on Curriki – Math for Girls. This link includes a series of videos featuring women working in mathematics and presenting pieces of math that excited them when they were in middle and high school.

Help girls realize that math and sciences education is not just for the boys. Even if they don’t end up pursuing STEM careers, there is a lot of useful and interesting knowledge to be gained in studying math, science and engineering topics. The use of math in traditionally non-STEM careers, such as finance and marketing, is only increasing. And maybe they are better at math than they think they are!

This is an applet for telling time, with both analog and digital displays, that teachers can use with elementary school classes. Our thanks to the Santa Clara County Office of Education and Karen Bergesen for sharing these resources.

And now, as a bonus, and for a much longer term perspective, here’s a resource which covers a time scale of tens and hundreds of millions of years!

This is an algebra resource at the high school level that is built around a theme of dinosaurs. Dig deeper to find more ancient dinosaur fossils! Thanks also to the Santa Clara County Office of Education for pointing out this resource as well.