Increasing Inclusivity Within STEM Curricula

By Alli Sattler, Class of 2025 

About This Project

As someone majoring in math and secondary education, I have become increasingly concerned with the inherently exclusive systems in mathematics. In taking more courses within the fields of math and education, I have continued to ask myself questions about why math courses continue to be set up the same way: the majority of one’s grade determined by exams, needing to get through a certain amount of material in order to move onto the following course, reliance on a single textual source, etc. A common theme that I have noticed within STEM courses is the lack of flexibility within course structures and syllabi, as STEM courses tend to build upon one another. Further, if a professor falls behind or strays from the curriculum, students are disadvantaged, as they would not be prepared for the following course. With this lack of flexibility comes the use of a singular source, typically a textbook, to structure and guide the course. By using a sole source, other perspectives and histories are being omitted, leading to a narrow framework for understanding the course material. Additionally, the sources typically in use cover the history and theories of old white men, which perpetuates the issue of representation within STEM.

This semester, I have been taking the course History of Mathematics, which has caused me to think about the implications of these trends within STEM education. Thus far, I have learned about diverse types of mathematicians that have profoundly impacted the field and have been working on math all around the world. However, most of the mathematicians I have learned about are excluded from textbooks. Why is that the case? Even the mathematicians I have heard of are not discussed in depth in textbooks. Rather, textbooks simply recite the formula or theorem the mathematician crafted and provide slim to no background on how the practice came to be. Failing to include these fundamental parts of mathematical practices not only diminishes the role of mathematicians, but also neglects why math is important to society. Through analyzing history and how these practices came to be, the human activity of mathematics becomes more relevant and engaging to students and their lives. Without this fundamental understanding, math becomes reduced to memorizing formulas and plugging in numbers to achieve an intended outcome.

To combat these sedentary trends that I have noticed within STEM courses, I have assembled a collection of practices to integrate into both curricula and syllabi to make STEM courses more equitable and accessible. By implementing these slight adaptations, STEM can not only become more equitable but can also become more relevant and interesting to students, as such aspects are often lost within STEM education.

As you are reviewing your syllabus, you should consider adding the following:

  • Diverse sources and supplemental readings
  • Participation Grades
  • Varied Means of Assessment
  • Extra Credit Opportunities

Using CTRL’s Syllabus Template, I highlight various places and ways in which instructors can tangibly make STEM courses more inclusive.

Click here to download a copy of an annotated syllabus template for an inclusive STEM course.

Below, I expand on the historical and current inequities existing within STEM education that have led me to create this guide on creating an inclusive STEM syllabus.

History of STEM Education

Throughout the history of education in the U.S., officials have grappled with what STEM education should be and how to present STEM disciplines within the classroom. There is a long history of students’ academic outcomes falling short within STEM disciplines. Reformers viewed this gap in STEM achievement in schools as a preview for accelerating income inequality. In addition, underrepresented students within STEM fields experience more academic barriers for a variety of systemic reasons, which leads to diminished STEM achievement. To expand, “students of color, with the same achievement, end up in lower track classes” often due to stereotypes and biases of educators and administrators (Kang, 2022). This relates to the rhetoric “you cannot be what you cannot see,” as so many students are deterred from being a part of STEM disciplines due to the lack of access and inclusivity present within the field. Due to stereotyping and lack of equitable opportunities for all students, this cycle of achievement gaps and representation gaps persists. Thus, it is pressing to combat these overarching systems of inequity and lack of representation within STEM.

With each generation of students, parents, and administrators, there is a cyclic pattern of those wanting change within the education system, working to achieve that change, and eventually failing to achieve their goals due to the desires being impossible to meet. Within these cycles, there have been various perspectives brought forth about what the overall goal of STEM education should be and how we should instill these values within students. There is a continuous trend regarding the nature of math being heavily dependent on prerequisites, which leads to its exclusivity of the field. As I have continued to be immersed in various math courses, I too have found that such courses rely heavily on the previous courses, thus making it even more challenging, and oftentimes impossible, for students without such background information to enter the field or take courses at a “higher” level. Through increased discussion regarding progressive education, the connection between basic mathematical skills and understanding of concepts arose. Thus, it becomes clear that it is impossible to instill a conceptual understanding in math without the supporting basic skills. Further, in the 1990s, the rhetoric of “one size does not fit all” and “teach children, not curricula” began to be brought forth (Klein, 2003). With these ideas in mind, questions began to arise regarding the values of math education by redefining what constitutes math and by advocating for more progressive pedagogical practices.

The way math is taught is often dependent on the instructor’s or society’s beliefs about what math is. If math is seen exclusively as a tool or set of skills, it is most often taught by drill. However, when math is viewed as a body of knowledge vital to understanding one’s surroundings, a teacher may present a structure that helps students grasp the connection between various skills (Furr, 1996). Only when a teacher believes that the true value of math is in the ongoing process of discovering new relationships will they naturally guide students to learn through an analytical lens (Furr, 1996). Often, I have noticed a continuous trend of math courses being heavily comprised of “drills” through computational-based activities. However, this model of teaching can be problematic, as these “drills” reduce math to memorizing equations and techniques rather than focusing on the significance or relevance of the content.

Despite the possibilities of instructors discovering their viewpoint on the importance of STEM education, the issue of achievement gaps within STEM education prevails. There continues to be failure of “average” and “low-ability” students in math classrooms, which points to the fact that instructors have not yet mastered how to teach math for understanding to those who do not naturally grasp the concepts, thus only providing the opportunity for “top” students to enroll in higher-level math courses (Furr, 1996). This becomes both problematic and detrimental, as the same groups of students are consistently steered away from believing they can succeed within STEM disciplines.

Are We Teaching the “Right” Things?

As the math that is being taught within the classroom is often reduced to merely memorizing equations and methods, the purpose of learning math is often lost. Further, math curriculum lacks historical perspective and thematic coherence, which leads to a fragmented collection of assorted topics and techniques that lack meaning and relevance. STEM classrooms expect students to sit still, fill out worksheets, and follow directions rather than be encouraged to ask questions and create their own understandings. As students are taught to view math as a set of procedures, students are forced to memorize these procedures to “succeed.” Thus, the question regarding whether we are teaching the “right” things within the classroom arises, as it becomes clear that math is often reduced to computational practices. As I have had the opportunity to take various levels and types of math courses, I have rarely been given the opportunity to construct my own meaning in math courses. Students within math classrooms lack creative freedom and the opportunity to create deep, meaningful understandings of course content through the limited content and teaching methods. Most recently, I have had the opportunity to analyze the historical contexts and relevance of today’s mathematical practices, which has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding into the importance of students learning these historical elements within all math courses. Through this analysis, it becomes clear that math is a human activity and that there are numerous practical aspects of mathematics. With this fundamental understanding, students are more likely to understand why math remains relevant and important today.

Despite the rich history of mathematics, most of this history is omitted from both the classroom and textbooks. By bringing the history of math back into the classroom, students can better understand not only why these practices are being taught but also why these procedures are relevant to their lives. Through this addition of history, it is important to address the lack of representation apparent throughout STEM disciplines. There is a common theme of inclusion and exclusion of various groups, specifically regarding a lack of equity for various racial, ethnic, and gender identities. Despite issues of representation persisting in historical representations of mathematics, math has been present worldwide. By integrating historical representations that are diverse in thought and background, students are not only able to see themselves represented within course content but are also able to believe that they can succeed within a content domain. Additionally, there is a common misconception that it is not necessary to address issues of equity and diversity within STEM classrooms. This trend is evidenced by the scarcity of check-ins or conversations on current events that I have noticed in my STEM courses, unlike humanities-based classes. Although these interventions seem like a minor detail, they are a crucial element of the classroom, as students are not only encouraged to participate and discuss within the classroom, but the instructor is addressing events that could be happening both in and out of students’ lives as well as fostering an inclusive classroom climate. No matter the content area, addressing critical issues within the classroom is vital, as both students and instructors are impacted by such issues regarding equity and diversity. Through understanding that a lack of diverse perspectives exists within both historical representations and what history is being taught within classrooms, it becomes increasingly apparent that this conversation is vital within STEM classrooms.


Furr (Waggener), J. (1996). A Brief History of Mathematics Education in America. History.

Kang, J. C. (2022, November 15). How math became an object of the culture wars. The New Yorker.

Klein, D. (2003). A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century.