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Bad at Math? Maybe It’s in Your Head

  • December 26, 2016|
  • 5 months ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solution Architect

We’ve written about the lack of representation of women in STEM-related fields. Minority and low-income students are also under-represented. The truth of the matter, though, is that everyone could benefit from greater grounding in STEM-related concepts from an early age.

The modern economy’s demands for STEM field graduates is also critical. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology projects a need for “approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.”

With Math I Can is a program that aims to create positive perceptions of math and science and drive student interest in STEM. Let’s learn why With Math I Can is so critical for today’s students.

How Do We Fuel the STEM Engine?

A big part of the problem is perception. Unfortunately math, and to some extent science, aren’t topics that garner much enthusiasm in schools, especially at the younger grades. However, the emergence of technology in classrooms has created a new opportunity to shift that perception. Disguised in the form of games that deliver STEM-related concepts in not-so-obvious ways, like Minecraft or the SimCity series of video games, gamification is one way to introduce these concepts to children, from pre-K through higher ed. The National Education Association offers a list of resources for both students and instructors that offers a wide array of gaming, education, and professional development options.

Early intervention is important too. If children can be engaged with science, math, and technology-related material from an early age—and if they can attain early success—the chances of lifetime adoption and facility are improved. Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing curricula for preschool students to introduce STEM principles during the formative years.

The Power of Positivity

Harvey Mudd is a small college in California that has become known for its ability to graduate a high percentage of female students in computer science programs that are traditionally dominated by male graduates. This year, 55 percent of the graduates were women compared to 16 percent nationally. How do they do it? Through a combination of innovative practices designed to encourage inclusivity and pave the way for women to shine.

“It has done it by removing obstacles that have typically barred women—including at the faculty level. The school emphasizes teaching over research, hiring and rewarding professors on the basis of their classroom performance,” says Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd’s president since 2006.

Another obstacle facing STEM students is the way they think and talk about STEM subjects. There’s evidence that simply believing in one’s ability to excel in STEM-related areas of education can improve performance. About 30 percent of Americans believe they’re not good at math. Young people and females are even less confident in their abilities, according to Change the Equation. Turning those negative thoughts around can boost performance and even help students beat the odds in terms of STEM success.

With Math I Can

Amazon’s With Math I Can program, which Lenovo sponsors, works to instill this positive mindset into children from a very young age through a growth mindset. With Math I Can believes that “fostering the development of growth mindset in our children, especially when it comes to math, is an integral piece of their future success in any field or job. With a growth mindset, students believe that intelligence can grow.” The program offers resources and growth mindset tools like workbooks, PD series, and online courses for schools and teachers looking to change how their students think about STEM.

Takeaway: Is self-limiting thinking holding back your students? The earlier we can start to instill new attitudes among students who will be positioned to hold the STEM-related jobs of the future, the better able we’ll be to ensure a steady stream of talent. We invite you to take the With Math I Can challenge and begin fostering a growth mindset among students in your classrooms and in your life.


1. “STEM Crisis or STEAM Surplus? Yes and Yes” U.S. Department of Labor. May 2015.
2. “How Early Can We Introduce STEM Education?” eSchool News. August 9, 2016.
3. “Harvey Mudd College Took On Gender Bias and Now More Than Half Its Computer-Science Majors Are Women” Quartz. August 22, 2016.
4. “In a New Survey, Americans Say, ‘We’re Not Good at Math’” Change the Equation. 2016.
5. “The 10 Best STEM Resources” National Education Association. N.d.
6. “With Math I Can” Amazon. 2016.