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Why US Students Underperform in Math & Science Essay

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Updated: Apr 28th, 2021

Introduction

The paper aims at analyzing the reasons why U.S. students demonstrate low performance in math and science. Therefore, the main concepts to be discussed are science, math, and performance. Math and science are two subjects included in the STEM curriculum of the modern system of education in the US. Math is the subject that studies numbers and shapes and includes arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. Science is the subject where learners gain knowledge about the world and its structure. Performance can be defined as the level of measuring how well one copes with some task or subject. As a result, underperformance means a low level of performance. The central argument of the paper is that students underperform in math and science because these STEM elements involve many complicated matters, which makes it difficult for learners to understand these subjects.

Main body

The issue of underperformance in math and science is related to the cognitive and social domains of human development. When a person does not have sufficient knowledge of these subjects, he or she cannot cope with some crucial tasks or communicate with others on important issues related to the world’s processes. Obtaining sufficient knowledge of math and science belongs to the psychological dimension of intelligence, which is understood as the ability for problem-solving, reasoning, and learning.

There is a variety of measures aimed at assessing intelligence at different stages of human development. In Piaget’s theory of human development, the topic of performing in math and science relates to the last phase, which is called formal operations (Shriner & Shriner, 2014). At this stage, according to Piaget, a child learns to think abstractly, and this ability is further needed in mastering science and math. In Vygotsky’s theory, the emphasis is made on the role of sociocultural influences and support from adults or more experienced peers (Shriner & Shriner, 2014). Thus, according to this approach, the performance in science and math is dependent on students’ cooperation with other learners, as well as teachers and parents.

In current research articles, the problem of students’ underperformance in math and science is associated with insufficient time dedicated to these subjects and the concept of math anxiety. Math anxiety is defined as the negative feeling of fear that students experience when they are engaged in math (Beilock & Maloney, 2015). Scholars note that the poor math skills one has, the more anxious one is likely to be about them. As a result of this phenomenon, many learners in the US feel a barrier to enhancing their knowledge of math. Beilock and Maloney (2015) associate low performance in math with the lack of concentration on “affective factors in math achievement” (p. 4). Naizer, Hawthorne, and Henley (2014) have a similar opinion about students’ achievements in science. Scholars remark that if more time and attention were paid to STEM education, results would be better. The issue of underperformance in math and science has gained much attention in cultural and historical dimensions (Saxe, 2014). Each culture has its specific symbols and signs to represent math skills (D’Entremont, 2015). Approaches to learning about science are also diverse in various countries and have varied through history. The most prominent example from history is people’s disbelief of the Earth being round or moving around the Sun.

Conclusion

The analysis of psychological theories of development, as well as the evidence found in scholarly papers, allows concluding that students’ underperformance in math and science is related to the complicated aspects involved in these subjects. Also, the insufficient amount of time allocated for teaching science and math at schools plays a negative role. Since the knowledge of STEM is crucial for social and cognitive development, it is necessary to improve the approaches that are currently exploited in the U.S. system of education.

Annotated Bibliography

Beilock, S. L., & Maloney, E. A. (2015). Math anxiety: A factor in math achievement not to be ignored. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2(1), 4-12.

The aim of Beilock’s and Maloney’s (2015) study is to investigate the phenomenon of math anxiety. Scholars define math anxiety as a set of negative feelings of fear and tension experienced by some individuals when they are engaged in math. Scholars remark that as a result of math anxiety, many students in the US underperform in mathematics. The major aim of the research is to promote the initiative of instructing students, teachers, and parents on math anxiety, which is expected to lead to positive outcomes and increase students’ performance in this subject. Since the study by Beilock and Maloney (2015) has a qualitative character, the method employed by the authors is the review of the literature. The results of the research indicate that to be successful in math, a student should not only have knowledge but also “the right mindset” (Beilock & Maloney, 2015, p. 10).

Naizer, G., Hawthorne, M. J., & Henley, T. B. (2014). Narrowing the gender gap: Enduring changes in middle school students’ attitude toward math, science, and technology. Journal of STEM Education, 15(3), 29-34.

The purpose of the article by Naizer et al. (2014) is to analyze students’ perceptions of science and math and the ways of increasing the learners’ motivation. With the help of the project M2T2 (Maximizing Motivation, Targeting Technology), scholars engaged students in a summer STEM program which was followed by academic year requirements. The study methods included the M2T2 questionnaire and a survey that evaluated the study habits and related behaviors of the students. Although the program was concerned with STEM, the elements of math and science interested scholars more than engineering and technology. Naizer et al. (2015) were able to collect data from 32 students. The results of the study indicate that the enrollment of learners in a summer STEM program has a considerable positive effect on getting students more motivated to study science and math.

References

D’Entremont, Y. (2015). Linking mathematics, culture and community. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 174, 2818-2824.

Saxe, G. B. (2014). Culture and cognitive development: Studies in mathematical understanding. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Shriner, B., & Shriner, M. (2014). Essentials of lifespan development: A topical approach. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Why US Students Underperform in Math & Science." April 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/why-us-students-underperform-in-math-science/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Why US Students Underperform in Math & Science'. 28 April.

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