Problem-based Learning to Improve Girls' Math Identity (2018-2019)

Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields in the United States. The gender gap in STEM fields exists at all levels, from childhood through career selection, and there are many causes for female underrepresentation found in recent research on the topic. Two major causes are students’ math identity—their beliefs, attitudes and emotions about math—and societal views around gender as it relates to fields of study. Because many people see math as a “masculine” subject, women and girls tend to feel they must overachieve in the field to be competitive, or even comparable, with their male counterparts. Additionally, the pervasive stereotype that STEM fields are “for men” can have a negative impact even on those who actively reject the stereotype.

This Bass Connections project aimed to inspire students to change their own relationships with math both by building confidence, ownership and self-sufficiency in problem-solving and by building awareness of gender stereotypes and their potential impacts. The project team planned and ran a series of free workshops for middle school students who identified as female in an attempt to improve their math identity. Outside of the workshops, Duke team members worked together to plan activities, discuss their own ideas and approaches and build an increased awareness of gender stereotypes.

Assessment occurred through regular surveying of participants and parents, along with tracking program attendance. Participants were surveyed regularly about their confidence and interest in math, along with their comfort level and participation in their math classroom at school. Participation in the online components of the program were also tracked. Results of the first year of the program will be used for publication, but they will also be used to inform further research related to problem-based learning and the potential impact on girls’ confidence in the classroom


Fall 2018 – Summer 2019

Team Outputs 

Problem-Based Learning to Improve Girls’ Math Identity (poster by Sophia Santillan, Tori Akin, Lauren Valentino, Katie Jacobs, Becca Erenbaum, Talise Redmond, Cassie Galeano, PIngyi Zhu, Shelby Powers, Preethi Kannan, Juliet O’Riordan, Selena Qian, Anna Munro), presented at EHDx, Duke University, April 9, 2019 and at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019

Improving Girls’ Math Identity (talk by Preethi Kannan and Shelby Powers, EHDx, Duke University, April 9, 2019)

Girls Exploring Math: A Math Enrichment Program and Research Study (website)


Selena Qian

This Team in the News

Summer Research Snapshots 2019

Duke Math’s Tori Akin Named One of 2019’s Most Innovative Professors

Major Decisions

This project team was originally part of the Education & Human Development theme of Bass Connections, which ended in 2022. See related team, Spatial Reasoning and Problem-based Learning to Improve Girls' Math Identity (2019-2020).

Girls at math workshop.

Team Leaders

  • Victoria Akin, Arts & Sciences-Mathematics
  • Sophia Santillan, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science
  • Lauren Valentino, The Ohio State University

/graduate Team Members

  • Katherine Jacobs, Genetics & Genomics Prgm - PHD
  • Lauren Valentino, Sociology-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Rebecca Erenbaum, Statistical Science (BS)
  • Cassandra Galeano, Sociology (AB)
  • Preethi Kannan, Computer Science (BS)
  • Anna Munro, Computer Science (AB)
  • Juliet O'Riordan, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Shelby Powers, Mathematics (AB)
  • Selena Qian, Interdepartmental Major
  • Talise Redmond, Economics (BS)
  • Pingyi Zhu, Economics (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Martha Putallaz, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Ara Wilson, Arts & Sciences-Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham Public Schools