Promoting Mathematical Competence & Confidence in Latina Preservice Teachers: Examining Home & School Experiences

Article excerpt

This article presents the activities and results of an American Association of University Women (AAUW) Campus Action Project designed to promote Latinas' mathematical confidence and competence in teaching elementary mathematics. The project explored how school and family experiences contribute to Latinas' sense of self efficacy as teachers of mathematics in elementary schools. Through analysis of their personal histories as they intersect with mathematics, and the patterns found among those histories, Latinas pursuing careers in education explored issues of confidence as they relate to both teaching and learning mathematics.

The goal of the project was to ensure confidence and self efficacy among Latinas in order to enable them to encourage powerful mathematics learning and confidence in their own students. Participants' experiences suggest improvements and inclusion for K-12 and teacher education as well as ways to promote and connect learning to at-home experiences.

Different Student Groups, Different Mathematics Education Experiences

A large body of research as well as state and national achievement results underscore the disparate nature of the mathematics educational experience and its outcomes for specific subgroups of the U.S. student population. Gender is one example of such a set of student population sub groupings. Despite the fact that male and female aptitude for mathematics is equal (Spelke, 2005), past achievement data indicate slight differences between male and female achievement.

Although the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reveal that since 1973 mathematics achievement for nine-year-olds has been similar for girls and boys, by age 17 males have, in the past, outperformed females slightly in mathematics (U.S. Department of Education, 2008a). Fortunately, meta analytical findings conclude that overall gender differences in mathematics are trivial (Hyde, Lindberg, Linn, Ellis, & Williams, 2008). However, Hyde et al. do note that national achievement data suggest that differences in one critical subcomponent of mathematics achievement-complex problem solving- seem to favor males.

Additionally, despite the fact that girls and boys currently take advanced mathematics courses at about the same rate, boys still pursue certain Science-Technology- Education-Mathematics courses (such as physics) at higher rates (NSF, 2006). Finally, families appear to encourage boys more strongly in mathematics than they do girls, and fathers appear to have a strong influence on whether girls come to love mathematics (Jacobs, Davis-Kean, Bleeker, Eccles, & Malachuk, 2005). Thus, even in the face of similar mathematics aptitude and achievement based on gender, it appears that gender-based stereotypes still plague U.S. learners, their families, and educators (Cavanaugh, 2008).

Race and Ethnicity

Students also have different mathematics experiences based on race and ethnicity. Although children of color bring to the kindergarten classroom "the same basic intellectual competencies in mathematical thought and cognitive processes as their White counterparts" (Walker & McCoy, 1997, p. 71), performance gaps in mathematics are found between students of color and their White peers.

For instance, in California, although 58% of seventh-grade students' performance levels were proficient or advanced, 32% of Latinos performed at proficient or advanced levels, and just one quarter (26%) of Black seventh graders achieved proficiency (CDE, 2009). National data indicate similar disparities. Although the 2008 NAEP data show a slight narrowing of the achievement gap since 1973 for nineyear- olds, there is still a 16-point gap in achievement between Hispanic students and White students and a 26-point gap between Black students and White students (U.S. Department of Education, 2008b). By the time students hit 17 years of age, the Hispanic/White gap increases to 21 points, and the Black/White gap to 27 points. …