This Girl Is On Fire

Girl on Fire

A Campaign to Close the Achievement Gap

For decades, educators have struggled to close the “achievement gap,” the persistent differences in test scores, grades and graduation rates among students of different races, ethnicities and, in some subjects, genders.

According to an American Psychological Association article, a group of social and cognitive psychologists have approach this problem not based on the idea that at least some of these disparities are the result of faulty teaching or broken school systems, but instead spring from toxic stereotypes that cause ethnic-minority and other students such as women to question whether they belong in school and whether they can do well there. While such a major problem might seem to require widespread social change to fix, the psychologists are finding evidence that short, simple interventions can make a surprisingly large difference. Quick classroom exercises that bolster students’ resistance to stereotypes and change the way they think about learning can have dramatically out-of-scale effects, these researchers say.

And indeed, they’ve gotten dramatic results. In one of the best-known studies, low-performing black middle school students who completed several 15-minute classroom writing exercises raised their GPAs by nearly half a point over two years, compared with a control group.

Researchers have tested the model in other populations, including among female physics students. Women in science face some of the same stereotypes, and achievement gaps, that blacks and Latinos face in the rest of academia. In 2008, women earned only 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees and 18 percent of the doctorates awarded in physics, according to the American Physical Society, even though they earned nearly 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees overall.

About 400 students in an introductory physics class at the University of Colorado–Boulder complete a personal-value writing exercise similar to the one used in the Connecticut middle school study. The college physics students did the exercise twice, once during the first week of the semester and once right before the first exam.

The researchers found that women who did the self-affirmation exercise did significantly better in the class: Among the control group, about 60 percent of the women earned C’s and less than 30 percent earned B’s. In the self-affirmation group, as many women earned B’s as earned C’s. The exercise didn’t affect men’s grades in the class.

Our first effort for This Girl Is On Fire will be the The Roizen Cleopatra Hopper Parks Lovelace Lab. The Roizen Cleopatra Hopper Parks Lovelace (RoC HoPLo) Lab looks to address gender inequity by teaching skills such as computer programming. In these four sessions, we will be building a game called Roll-a- Ball using  gaming platform called Unity3D.

There will also be a robotic component to this course using a robotic ball called Sphero where in addition to the robotic aspects of Sphero, we will also be using it as a game controller.


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