Male students more confident in math and STEM class

All students credit 'good teachers' with driving their interest in math and STEM
By: | May 5, 2020
Many educators believe female students are just as good as math and STEM as males though a gender gap persists in the subjects. (JW LTD/GettyImages.com)Many educators believe female students are just as good as math and STEM as males though a gender gap persists in the subjects. (JW LTD/GettyImages.com)

Male students like math more than female students do and also feel more confident in math and STEM classes, a new survey of 1,253 11th- and 12th-grade students has found.

More than three-quarters (76%) of male students reported participating frequently and confidently in math and science classes, compared with 58% of girls who said the same, according to the survey by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an international STEM society that brings together education and industry.

“While there are not huge differences in male and female views on math and STEM, the survey shows there is still a marked gender difference when it comes to subject preferences and how students view their own strengths, as well as confidence levels in math class,” said Michelle Montgomery, who directs the organization’s MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge.

Twenty-eight percent of the female students surveyed described their participation in math and science as “frequent but questioning,” compared to just 12% of males.

When asked what drives interest in pursuing STEM careers, the students’ top four answers were: good teachers, participating in real-world STEM applications, exposure to the diversity of STEM-related careers, and experiencing STEM applications in the workplace.

Other results of the study, which were consistent even among some of America’s top high school students, include:

  • 76% of females and 89% of males said STEM was their favorite subject.
  • 67% of females and 85% of males identified STEM as their strongest subject.
  • 69% of females and 83% of males plan to pursue STEM fields in college.
  • 52% of females and 63% of males prefer open-ended questions on math exams
  • 48% of females and 37% of males prefer multiple-choice questions.

Math, STEM and verbal skills

Educators across the country are working to provide more real-world math and STEM experiences, District Administration reported last year.


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For example, real-world math units in Maryland’s Carroll County Public Schools begin with multistep tasks that present students with relevant problems—such as how coaches divide players between varsity and junior varsity teams or how wildlife experts use ratios to protect endangered species.

“Application-based mathematics is really the world we live in and it shows stuff that students can relate to,” Mary Swack, the district’s supervisor of secondary mathematics, told DA.

Though many educators believe female students are just as good at math as males, a “career gap” in STEM persists. A study released last year in the journal PNAS found that females—despite matching their male peers’ skills in math—choose more humanities-centric careers because their verbal skills are even greater, PBS/NOVA reported.


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