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Theses Doctoral

Mathematics Identities of Non-STEM Major Female Students

Guzman, Anahu

The mathematics education literature has documented gender differences in the learning of mathematics, interventions that promote female and minority students to pursue STEM majors, and the persistence of the gender, achievement, and opportunity gaps. However, there is a significantly lower number of studies that address the mathematics identities of students not majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Even more elusive or non-existent are studies that focus on the factors that shaped the mathematics identities of female students not pursuing STEM majors (non-STEM female students). Because the literature has shown the importance of understanding students' mathematics identities given its correlation with student achievement, motivation, engagement, and attitudes toward mathematics, it is vital to understand the factors that influence the construction of mathematics identities in particular of those students that have been historically marginalized.
To address this issue, I explored the mathematics identities held by 12 non-STEM major students (six taking a remedial mathematics course and six others taking a non-remedial mathematics course) in one urban business college in a metropolitan area of the Northeastern United States. This study used Martin's (2000) definition of mathematics identity as the framework to explore the factors that have influenced the mathematics identities of non-STEM female students. The data for this qualitative study were drawn from mathematics autobiographies, one questionnaire, two interviews, and three class observations.
I found that the mathematics identities of non-STEM major female students' in remedial and non-remedial mathematics courses were influenced by the same factors but in different ways. Significant differences indicated how successful and non-successful students perceive, interpret, and react to those factors. One of those factors was non-successful students believe some people are born with the ability to do mathematics; consequently, they attributed their lack of success to not having this natural ability. Most of the successful students in remedial mathematics attribute their success to effort and most successful students in non-remedial mathematics attribute their success to having a natural ability to do mathematics. Another factor was successful students expressed having an emotional connection to mathematics. This was evident in cases where mathematics was an emotional bond between father and daughter and those in which mathematics was a family trait.
Moreover, the mathematics activities in both classrooms were scripted and orchestrated with limited room for improvisation. However, the non-remedial students experienced moments in which their academic curiosity contributed to opportunities to exercise conceptual agency and author some of their mathematics knowledge. Further, successful students in remedial mathematics did not have the ability to continue the development of positive mathematics identities given rigid classroom activities that contributed to a limited sense of community to support mathematics learning.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015