College students' beliefs about mathematics, gender, and popular media
Prior research has suggested that individual and environmental variables influence gender differences in mathematics participation and performance (Leder, 1990). However, the research has overlooked an interaction between those variables, leading to the hypothesis that there is a relationship between them. This study identifies and describes college students' beliefs about gender, mathematics, and occupational choice and how they perceive their beliefs to be influenced by the popular media. In the first phase of this study, 194 elementary education majors and 235 non-education majors completed a 28-item survey that assessed their beliefs and perceptions about mathematics, gender, and the popular media. I used the survey results to select participants for focus group meetings taking place during the second and third phases of the study. Four focus groups met to experience (read and watch) a popular media representation of people who were successful in mathematics and discuss how the media represented mathematics, gender, and occupations. I examined the survey results and focus group discussions in order to understand how the participants perceived media to influence their beliefs about gender and mathematics, as well as their occupational choice. The majority of survey participants responded that males and females were equal in mathematical performance, but two of the focus group participants indicated that males performed better than females in mathematics. On the survey, over 80% of all education and non-education college students reported the media had not influenced their beliefs about mathematics. But, the media's influence was one of the first variables to enter a stepwise linear regression predicting perceptions of whether males or females performed better in mathematics. The media's influence on the participants' mathematics-related beliefs was also evident throughout the focus group conversations. Most participants felt that other than their own interests and desires, parents were the most influential on their occupational decision. The education participants were more likely to perceive teachers as an influence on their decision to become educators. The non-education participants were more likely to perceive the media or society as an influence on their occupational choice.
0745: Higher education