Creating a pathway to STEM: Role of an informal mathematics program
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This dissertation presents the findings of a single-site, qualitative, embedded case study involving four former (1990 – 2008) participants of an informal math program in US. The purpose of this study is to describe in my words the stories of the participants from economically disadvantaged and/or minority backgrounds who attended a university affiliated informal mathematics summer program – Riverside Summer Math Camp (RSMC) during their high school years, about (a) how this program affected their mathematics learning identity (MLI), (b) how this program impacted their social capital (SC) and influenced their educational and career trajectories, (c) what particular characteristics of this program do they value. The retrospective aspect of the study allows for looking at the long-term effect of a math camp on the educational and career trajectories of the participants in order to gain a better understanding of the role that informal math summer camps such as RSMC play in increasing the participation of women in STEM, if any. The research questions were answered based on the data obtained from participants’ past data sources (journals, camp evaluations, and essays from during the time they attended RSMC) and their present data sources (interviews, preliminary survey, and recent correspondence). The ecological perspective provides a theoretical framing of the study and was operationalized using Nasir and Cooks’ (2009) identity resource model in order to analyze the data. Four individual case reports as well as cross-case analysis are presented. The findings of the study indicate that
- All four participants displayed a narrow and ritualized pre-MLI in a procedure driven figured world of their respective school environments. Upon attending RSMC, all four participants developed a broad and holistic understanding of the field of mathematics, learning, and themselves as learners of math. Three of the participants were also able to confront previously held stereotypical views about race, gender, national origin, and/or class in the context of learning math.
- All four participants reported varying degrees of limited social capital prior to coming to RSMC. This limited social capital included financial constraints, lack of female role models, and lack of family support. The data suggests that RSMC had a crucial impact on the participants’ higher education/career trajectory and the decisions they made regarding applying to some of the top-ranked institutions of higher learning by increasing their SC. There were additional findings that came to light about the college experiences of two of the four participants, which are also discussed.
- Some of the common practices/components valued by all four participants in the past and in the present that led to the impact on their respective MLI and SC include - study groups, mentorship received from the camp director, teaching practices at camp, a sense of community, the help and mentoring received from the counselors, social aspects (e.g. weekend trips), and the camp curriculum.
I have also included: (i) a discussion of the key findings situated within the context of the existing literature (e.g. Boaler & Greeno, 2000; Nasir & Hand, 2008; Solomon, 2009; Nasir & Cooks, 2009; Nasir et al., 2012; McGee, 2015) (ii) pedagogical implications for math educators to promote equitable teaching and learning in various settings, and policy makers for supporting and funding efforts of university affiliated math camps (iii) a framework for establishing an equity based education model (aiding in the construction of positive, holistic, and broadened learning identities) that applies to informal math programs or can be extended to other learning settings, and (iv) recommendations for future research.