Wired Magazine on Identity Threat and Working Memory

This year’s Best American Sportswriting collection features a fascinating article from Wired magazine about the psychology behind the phenomenon of “choking” in sports, when an athlete seizes up in a high-pressure situation.

The article contains a discussion of something that psychologists refer to as “stereotype threat” or “identity threat,” and its counterpart, “identity lift.”  In short, these terms refer to the fact that there appears to be some scientifically quantifiable justification behind the old adage “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”  The article talks about a number of studies in which test subjects performed worse at certain tasks after being reminded of negative stereotypes associated with a group of which the subject was a member.

[I]n 1999, Jeff Stone, a social psychologist at the University of Arizona, asked both white and black golfers to play a putting game framed as a test of either “sports intelligence” or “natural athletic ability.” The results still astonish: Among the golfers considering the putting game a test of “natural athletic ability,” blacks did better than usual and whites did worse. Among those framing it as a sort of sports intelligence test, whites did better and blacks worse.

This result, replicated many times since, eerily echoes the GRE test-score plunge that Steele and Aronson induced in 1995. Yet that white golfers suffered a hit while being tested for “natural athletic ability” raises an intriguing question: If white male golfers in Arizona can be so easily derailed by an unflattering stereotype, who on earth is exempt from stereotype threat?

No one. Since those first studies, Stone, Beilock, and others have produced, with almost laughable ease, absurdly task- and stereotype-specific effects in groups of every sort. For instance, if you ask white men to jump both before and after calling the jumping test a measure of “natural athletic ability,” they will jump significantly less high after the threat. White male engineers, meanwhile, will ace a math test if it’s presented as a test of gender-based or innate math abilities — but tell them they’re being compared with Asian male engineers, and they’ll choke badly.

“We haven’t found anyone,” says Beilock, “that we can’t screw up by suggesting that some group they’re a member of is bad at something.”

Stereotype threat, it turns out, is a surprisingly democratic dynamic. Obviously stereotypes such as bigotry and sexism are not applied equitably. But no one is immune to the mechanism that stereotype threat applies. For this reason, some psychologists are starting to call it “identity threat.” As Jeff Stone put it, “We all have multiple identities, and they can all be discriminated against. It’s the identities we carry that make us vulnerable here.”

This strikes me as being significant for teachers to think about, and particularly for teachers of young women, who (as Jen Thayer emphasizes with the TBIO discussions) are bombarded with confusing and often contradictory cultural messages about who society expects them to be.  In addition, the issue of “identity threat” seems to me to connect to the questions of identity that we look at and discuss in the works we read in  eighth-grade English — in fact, “identity” is one of the central themes of the whole course.

With all of that in mind, I loved this paragraph from the article:

“You can’t dictate your genes,” says Stone. “But among the many identities you have, you can choose which to operate from.” . . . You can wallow in your most negative identity — the slow one, the overthinker, the one who doesn’t care — or you can foreground another identity, the one who is ready, the one who knows what’s coming, the one who calmly attacks the problem.

Here’s a link to the article: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/the-tight-collar-the-new-science-of-choking/all/1

CAIS Call for Presenters

The Connecticut Association of Independent Schools is looking for presenters at next fall’s “Teacher’s Helping Teachers” conference.

Here’s some info on the types of presentations they’re looking for:

Conference Dates: Our next full day program will be held in October 2012 (date TBA). The following program will be held in January 2013.

What: We are seeking proposals for 20 minute presentations showing how you have incorporated any or all of the following 21st Century learning skills in your classroom or school:

problem solving
global education initiatives
fluency with technology

Access this link for information on how to apply:


Lunar Buggy Project in 5th grade Science class

The 5th graders finished a project in science class where they had to design and build a model of a lunar buggy that will carry equipment and astronauts on the surface of the moon.  The girls were given a box of materials that they were to use to create the lunar buggy.  The girls first investigated their materials and created a design for their lunar buggy in small groups. After they drew a detailed design of their lunar buggy, the groups started to build.  As the girls built their lunar buggies, there was 5 challenges they had to keep in mind.  The main challenge being they had to roll the lunar buggy down a ramp for a distance of about 100 cm beyond the ramp.  The lunar buggy also needed to include cargo (10 pennies or washers) and 2 astronauts that were not taped or glued into place. It took about 2 weeks to create the lunar buggies and then they were able to test them on the ramps.   They were to choose three different styles of the landing ramp, adjusting the height of the ramp (from the floor) each time.  Then the girls evaluated their project, answering several questions on a worksheet.  One question asked, did you change the original design of your lunar buggy?  Another asked, what challenges/difficulties did you come across as you designed your lunar buggy.

This project demonstrated an understanding of the Engineering process while using critical thinking to successfully complete a team challenge.

In a few weeks, the groups will be building and designing a landing pod for the model lunar buggy they built.  More to come…

Here’s a link to the story and photos on the CSH website

The Flipped Classroom

Here’s an interesting video on the “flipped classroom” concept:

Khan Academy, http://www.khanacademy.org/, might be a good resource to conduct a flipped class.  Of course, you can also use technology or create your own video to share content.

Here’s a link to the experiences of a teacher who successfully uses a flipped classroom for 5th grade and 7th grade math: http://lasdandkhanacademy.edublogs.org/