I'm wondering if some of you could help me a little. I'm working on a major project for my Middle Years Maths Curriculum course and I'm looking into the reasons that middle schoolers (grade 5-8) start to lose interest in Maths, especially with the beginning of Algebra. For those of you teaching these grades, specifically teaching Maths, have you noticed this trend and how do you deal with it? What do you think are the underlying causes? I'm really looking for personal opinons of real people on the front lines - which, as a student teacher, is why I'm asking you guys! Thanks in advance! (BTW I posted this in both the elementary and secondary forums because of the grade span I'm interested in! Thanks.)

Here are a few things that I see: (generalisatons, these don't happen in every math classroom and I try not to let them happen in mine!) 1. less "real world" application--they start to question, "Why do I need to know this?" and they need to see a relevance for them. If it isn't real for them it has little merit in their eyes. 2. fewer "hands-on" activities--in primary grades the students use manipulative materials almost daily, while in Junior and Intermediate they are seldom used. Students this age still need to manipulate, see and feel in order to consolidate their understanding. 3. fear of being wrong--students this age need to be taught that it is okay to take a risk and be wrong and that there is more than one way to solve a problem. 4. talk!!!--students this age are very social and need to be able to talk with each other about math--what they are doing and how they are solving the problems. Math period in my room is often the noisiest time of the day! Just a few ideas, but hope this helps a bit.

I find that the disinterest that many students from this age group manifest is strongly connected with lack of confidence, which is, by itself, a consequence of not having developed basic skills in Math. I can't count the times I've heard students saying "I don't like Math... I was never good in Math!".

I thought you might, Carmen, and I hear a lot of "I don't like math and I've never been good in it" from my students too. I'm looking forward to hearing MrsC's take on that part.

My students always start the year by saying that they don't like math and that they aren't good at it. I tell them that my goal is to spend the rest of the year trying to change their minds. I do agree with Carmen that basic skills are lacking. I can't believe how many grade 5 students are still making errors in basic addition and subtraction (Regroup? Why do I have to regroup?) My own math experience was not great; I was successful because I could memorize facts and formulas and because I had good computation skills, but I never really "got it". A couple of years ago when I was taking an additional qualification class in math, I finally started to understand the "why" behind so many of the facts and formulas. I started to really understand math, not just know it. I guess that is what I am trying to help my students do--deeply understand math concepts, not just memorize procedures. We do lots of problem-solving, with sharing of different solutions. I want the students to recognize that there is more than one correct way to solve the problem. For example, right now we are learning about perimeter. I am hopeful that many of them will develop the formula for finding the perimeter of a rectangle, but also recognize that many will add up all of the sides, some will count squares, and some will come up with some wild-and-wacky way I never even dreamed of! The important thing to me is that all arrive at the correct solution, some in a more expedient way than others, but all correct. Often, my students go back to practice facts and computation skills because they realize that this knowledge speeds up the process. I have done a lot of in-service training in math over the past few years, in part because I saw this as an area I really needed to learn more about, because I wanted to try to "break the cycle" of negativity towards math. I still have a lot to learn, but math is my favourite subject to teach each day.

I'm like you MrsC!!! Only in high school did I start understanding Math, like you said "getting it". As a teacher I always try to make my students think: "leading them" so they discouver/reach the concepts, promoting problem resolution, as much as I can. I really want to teach them "how to fish"! (do you use this expression?)

Do both of you find as I do that people tend to take one look at a problem and decide they can't do it? If so, how do you get them unstuck? MrsC, I notice you say that your students often "go back to practice facts and computation skills because they realize that this knowledge speeds up the process." That's wonderful - but do you have to, um, encourage them? How do you do that? What do you have available to help them with that? And what on earth can we do to help students come to your hands (both of you) with the requisite skills etc. already in place? (I'm being ambitious. Will you indulge me by wishing and brainstorming with me?)

I recently attended a super workshop on numeracy. The presenter's emphasis was on using a daily numeracy center (like extended calendar) through grade 5. She didn't work for any particular vendor but you could buy the complete numeracy center she used (2-sided, felt backing, on a pvc stand) for $199. from Kaplan. Many early elementary grades routinely do calendar activities daily but many teachers of grades 2 and above drop calendar as a morning routine. Some high school teachers were in the room and they said that they'd be so grateful if kids could come to them with the solid, core number sense that they need to really understand math.

Carmen, I love your expression, "how to fish"--that describes exactly what I am trying to do. I find that often, those students who dislike math are those for whom math = computation, and they are either weak and struggle with endless practice of computation, or strong and bored by endless practice of computation. The focus of most of the recent training I have attended is in Math Literacy. The computation aspects of mathematics are like the decoding...they are important, but only a small part of the whole picture. What I find most important is the deeper understanding of the concepts, the willingness to take a risk, and the ability to problem-solve. Helping the students to make connections between the different topics they learn about in math and to the real world are most important to me. Don't get me wrong, the basics are important and I encourage them; but, by the time the students get to grade 5 they should know most of them and I don't have time in our jam-packed curriculum to go back and re-teach. Things like multiplication and division facts are reviewed at home before we begin multiplication and division in class (and we don't focus on facts, but on more complex computation). I've taught Grade 8 students who don't know their facts, but can multiply and divide well, it just takes them longer. I find myself beginning to ramble on a bit...time to take a break from the computer and come back a bit later when my thoughts are more coherent.

Well, I'm an 8th grader and the reason I have lost interest is if it isn't taught well, like my math teacher doesn't teach well, or if all we do is book work then I get really bored during her lesson.

Bonnie, thanks for posting. Forgive me for quizzing you, but you're here, so... Have you lost interest just this year or has this been going on for some time? What's the neatest thing you've ever done in math? How do you think teachers can help students like you?

No problem, sure I'll answer. I have lost interest since the 7th grade. The neatest thing I've done in math is when we had to build a bridge out of toothpicks/marshmallows and had to use certain angles, etc. to make sure it would hold pencils. Teachers can help students like me by giving me a challenge at times and more teacher to student learning instead of teacher to class. I hope I've helped. If you wanna ask any more questions then ask away.

Well, we just finished up graphing linear functions. I don't feel like I have a steady grip on it though. My teacher really isn't the best.

Bonnie, sometimes ya gotta teach yourself; it's not the best situation, but it's possible to make the best of it. See if you can find THE USBORNE ILLUSTRATED DICTIONARY OF MATH, ISBN 0-7945-0062-3; it's got clear explanations plus links to Web sites that can help you. Try these also: Coolmath.com, http://www.coolmath.com . A college calculus teacher makes math fun for kids, parents, and educators. Math Goodies, http://www.mathgoodies.com/. Free math homework help online. The Math Forum is a well-known math-help Web site at http://mathforum.org/. You can also try looking up graphing and linear equations on Answers.com, http://www.answers.com.

I'm not giving up on math. It just frustrating when your own teacher doesn't know the answer. I personally have no idea how she made it through college. I don't think I should have to get online help with Math since our whole class is having trouble. it's the teacher's job to teach and she isn't teaching. I might as well be the teacher.

The best thing to do is stop blaming the teacher. If you come to class with a negative attitude toward the teacher, you cannot be receptive to what she is trying to teach. Sometimes the teacher has to move the class along, even when there are some students who aren't "getting it." Do you know your multiplication facts? Do you know how to divide? Do you understand decimals, fractions, and percentages? Can you convert decimals to fractions to percentages and so forth? If you can't honestly answer yes to these questions, you've got work to do to catch up. The higher the level of math you encounter, the more abstract it becomes. You can't do marshmallows and toothpicks forever. Many students "hit a wall" when math becomes more abstract, usually in middle school. I found that I didn't really understand the "why" behind a lot of math and algebra until I was doing it for a couple of years. Math requires work. Work leads to accomplishment. Accomplishment leads to confidence. Confidence leads to enjoyment. Roll up your sleeves, sharpen your pencil, listen, and learn. As for your teacher not knowing the answer..... I often will tell students I don't know the answer so they will stop bugging me to spoonfeed them. Then they know they have to figure it out for themselves.

I teach 6th grade math and I echo what you've heard about the lack of basic skills making math a trial for many students. It's so time consuming for them when they are still using multiplication charts in 6th grade. And many kids, even by 6th grade, havent' mastered basic place value concepts, which adds to their confusion. I took a great class - Math Camp - from Creative Mathematics and it really stressed activities that are rich with different skills. I have used many of those this year and I have kids now saying, "Last year I hated math but this year it's fun" or "This year I get it." I also see that, as kids get older, parents are less able to help them, which frustrates them and makes them feel like they are "on their own". This will probably rub many people wrong, but the quote in math camp was, "MAth is the pursuit of laziness," in that we are looking for ways to apply skills and solve problems in the simplest way, while still getting the correct answer. As stupid as it sounds, using that as our "mantra" has really motivated some of my kids, because it's convincing them that math isn't "hard - which is what we hear alot.

So many people are so terrified of math... Obviously the kids need and deserve lots of help. But do we also need to address the matter of the grownups? If so, how?

I may not understand your reference to grownups. One thing grownups/parents can do is stop telling their kids they hated math, never did well in it, blah, blah, blah. It's like giving your son or daughter a license to fail. It's the I'm-just-like-my-mom excuse for underperforming in math class. I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent sat with their offspring during a conference announcing with a big smile how they were lousy in math. The kid sits there grinning, yeah, me, too, mom! Math teachers turn themselves inside out coming up with ways to make math enjoyable and relevant, all the while the parent is dragging it down! Shut up, Parents! If you can't say anything constructive, don't say anything! Another thing that puts math teachers at a disadvantage is when students come from a class like lang. arts or social studies where they watch videos or make drums or exotic food or posters or color pictures or role-play or listen to audio tapes or what-have-you.... and the math teacher has to get the students to work the old-fashioned way.... with a pencil! Math is learned by doing math. It requires mental exercise, mental challenge, mental clarity, and mental flexibility. If you're lazy, you're at a disadvantage from the get-go. Whenever I emphasized hands-on fun over skill and problem-solving practice, the students did not progress as well. Also, the students who complained about their mean ol' math teacher are the ones who run up to me in the grocery, for instance, a few years later, exclaiming how they remember everything I taught, that now they're in high school and math isn't that bad after all! :wow:

Suki, you for sure got part of my reference to grownups: parental attitude. I'm also wondering about math issues among teachers. Might there be a sales job required there too? As to laziness in math... what if kids are lazy because they've decided there's no point in trying, that math is too hard?

I'm in complete agreement with logan_morgan. Correct me if I'm wrong: I believe logan's slogan (hey, that rhymes!) used the word laziness at a different level than I was using it. In other words, the people at Math Camp are obviously not lazy in the same sense of the word as I was applying it. They're talking about doing math efficiently and smartly so that it's enjoyable, not tedious. I'm talking about kids too lazy to bother reading a word problem or put a name on their paper or -- dare I say it? -- too lazy to think for themselves. I've actually had 7th-grade students whom I discovered were pulling out the numbers in a word problem without reading the words (too much effort required for that!) and then arbitrarily adding them or subtracting them (multiplication and division, again requiring too much effort.) If the numbers were in word form, they didn't notice them!

I had my share of 7th graders like the ones you described. As far as the laziness is concerned, I do think it is possible being "lazy" and good in Math...but not lazy in the sense "I don't want to think". As a student, I was "lazy" in the sense that I didn't do repetitive exercises (unless I was told to), when I already knew the concept, but wasn't lazy in the sense I wanted to solve challenging problems. I agree with the Math Camp slogan, and even with the saying "Elementary/Secondary" Math isn't hard, but it isn't an "easy" subject either. It needs frequentely more time and dedication than other subjects.

Do you ever have kids who act lazy, and then suddenly a little lightbulb goes on and they start working harder?

I had one last year, a clever lazy leader boy...his ego was/is(?) his problem. When he choosed to pay attention, he was the first to fish the concepts.

Every time I show the kids some mental math technique I stress to them that it's great because it is a shortcut. I want them to know that they don't have to slave over and obsess over math in order to get it right. I only had 8 kids in class today and they worked on a simple algebra problem with rational numbers and one variable. I got 9 different answers from them! I reminded them that it wasn't an opinion question. Well .... one of the 9 was the right answer. Does anyone belong to the NCTM and get the publication, Teaching Children Math? It is very good.

You all, are all missing my point. If I'm not learning, half the class ins't learning, then is this so called "teacher" of mine doing her job? Don't you all dare say we'll maybe you should look at this website. I am personally sick and tired of that. I should learn everything I need to learn at school instead of staying up until midnight trying to figure out what i did wrong on my math test. Today my math teacher handed us back our tests (oh goody, goody. *rolls eyes*). She starts yelling at us and saying "You all did awful on the test. Go home get it signed and try to figure out what you did wrong and correct it." Then numerous students asked her how they were supposed to correct it if they don't understand it. My teacher goes "Ask your parents!". Those websites really don't help me, My parents don't know how to do this, and when I ask them they get upset at the teacher since she should be teaching us. My mom is now threatening to call the Principal and set up a conference time with her so she can discuss my so called "teacher". I used to have "A"s on EVERYTHING in math. Now this year, I'm getting the worst grades ever in math. I try my hardest and I don't slack around.

Bonnie, understand one thing: we are teachers, not mediums. You aren't explaining well what is going on in your class. Are you expecting us to guess it? What do you want from us? Oh, and this is not the right thread to discuss your situation...