For most students, science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) subjects are not intuitive or easy. Learning in general—and STEM in particular—requires repeated trial and error, and a student’s lack of confidence can sometimes stand in her own way. And although teachers and parents may think they are doing otherwise, these adults inadvertently help kids make up their minds early on that they’re not natural scientists or “math people,” which leads them to pursue other subjects instead.
So what’s the best way to help kids feel confident enough to stay the STEM course? To answer this question, I spoke with Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University in California. Over the past 20 years, Dweck has conducted dozens of studies about praise’s impact on students’ self-esteem and academic achievement. Here is a transcript of our conversation, which has been condensed and lightly edited.
Alexandra Ossola: What sparked your interest in this field?