Why don't most students like math?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Swetha, Sep 21, 2012.

  1. Swetha

    Swetha Rookie

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    Sep 21, 2012

    I feel like every time I tell people that I want to major in math or become a math teacher, they get really shocked, wondering why I would ever want to. One girl told me that math teachers are always the teachers that everyone hates because of the subject.

    I really like math and I enjoy my math class. I am enjoying my humanities classes as well, but what is it about math that makes people dislike it? Or is it just the people I'm talking to?
     
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  3. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    As a person whose least favorite subject is math, I think most students don't like math because they automatically think they are horrible at it or they don't understand it.
     
  4. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    I have learned to appreciate math a lot more now that I'm older and there are a few reasons for that. One is I realize how much math I really do in my daily life and see the purpose behind different kinds of math. Another is I didn't realize when I was growing up that there really are numerous ways to arrive at the same answer. If I struggled doing it one way, I didn't know it was okay to try a different way. Another factor is speed. I equated being good at math with the speed at which I could crank it out. Since I took longer, I must be horrible. Speed is an important skill but it is separate from the ability to solve.
     
  5. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    I hated math as a student for several reasons:

    a) I was a "great" student otherwise. Math was the only subject that was hard for me and made me feel stupid.
    b) It bored me to tears- even in 1st grade, I used to watch the clock for when math would be over, to this day I still remember the time- 12:20. I knew the closer it got to 12:20, the closer we got to math being over.
    c) I didn't see the point- yes, I fully admit I was one of those "when am I going to use this in real life?" and "why don't you just use a calculator" students.
    d) My secondary math teachers were horrible, all the way up until my pre calc teacher, who was one of my favorite teachers of all time and really turned my attitude around. Too bad it took until junior year of HS to get a great teacher like that.


    As a teacher, math is one of my favorite subjects to teach!
     
  6. Ilovesummer

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    As a student, I always hated math. It didn't come easily for me, and I wasn't interested in it. As a teacher, it was one of my favorite things to teach ever since I started teaching. I find it to be much more straight-forward than a lot of other subjects to teach. In math, there's very little gray area. Your answers are either right or wrong.
     
  7. mollydoll

    mollydoll Connoisseur

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    I have two theories.

    One, everybody learns math differently, yet there is usually such an emphasis on doing things exactly as the teacher insists. This doesn't work for many students. Math is about becoming comfortable and adept at manipulating numbers and the language of math. This skill isn't being taught or nurtured.

    Two, many elementary teachers do not like math and their dislike ,and even fear, of math is imprinted on their young students who then go through school happy in their notion that math is "yucky."

    Nobody get mad at me for that! I tutored many of these teachers through the Praxis. Many barely had low high school math skills, yet were responsible for introducing K-3 to math! I'm sure they were great teachers in other respects, but there is no way they were able to give their kids a positive math education. And I've read a lot of similar things on here too.
     
  8. Cicero

    Cicero Companion

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    With my 6th graders this year I asked them to tell me their favorite subject as one of my openers; I had more students say Math than anything else. However, I do teach at an academically gifted magnet school. I have a lot of students who report not liking Language Arts as much, because they do not enjoy writing.

    In my personal experience, I used to hate math until I started to finally "get" it. I think that math is just a really intimidating subject for students, because of its negative reputation (probably their parents saying they hate math or teachers not being enthused about math).
     
  9. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Maven

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    I have no idea why students hate math. I hated it in school when I was a kid. I used some extra credits I had to skip a college math course so I didn't have to deal with my least favorite subject. Later, it came back to bite me since I NEEDED that class for a certain certification. I bit the bullet and took the class at a community college. The teacher was awesome! I got an A in the class! I really believe it was the teacher that made the difference. She made it interesting and got me to want to come to class.
     
  10. McParadigm

    McParadigm Companion

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    1. Statistically, Math classes feature more lecture-style lessons than any other subject besides Social Studies. And Social Studies at least lends itself to things like storytelling and graphic representation. Even if you LIKE Math, listening to somebody go on and on about example problems can be a pretty numbing experience. And even if your current Math teacher is a dynamic personality with creative lesson ideas, odds are by the seventh or eighth grade you've probably already had enough lengthy Math lecture in your life to make you perceive it as a "boring" subject.

    2. With Math, you usually see a lot of practice-style assignments. "Okay, we've talked about dividing decimals. I've shown you how to do it. We did some practice work together. Now do these thirty problems." If you're a Math kid, and you GET it, then after the first ten problems the assignment is a waste of your time. You want (and are ready) to go on to the next level. If you aren't a Math kid, then you 'sort of' understood it when the teacher was working through them but can't do it on your own. You still go home and sit down to do the work, but you already don't get it at problem one. Most of the time, doing the next twenty-nine problems is not going to fix that. Even when you get it right, it doesn't help, because you won't KNOW that you got that problem right for anywhere from 14 hours to several days. For some people, that's going to be most Math assignments, but everybody is going to encounter Math concepts that they just don't get at some point. And when they do, they too will end up with this exercise in deep frustration. Twenty problems that all require this concept that I'm just not getting. Argh!

    3. People who feel like they aren't good at something, unless they are heavily invested in that thing emotionally, disengage. They avoid. They may even develop animosity toward the subject or topic. For reasons including but hardly limited to those points above, most students (even ones who actually do well at it) between the ages of 11 and 16 perceive themselves as not being good at Math.
     
  11. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I'm not sure I agree with your premise.

    But I do think that there are too many kids out there who haven't been taught math well. They've been taught how to find the answers, using whatever shortcuts would arrive at those answers in the most timely fashion. As a result, they have no idea of the interconnections. THAT makes math hard, because each topic is a new one, and not a logical continuation of material they already know.
     
  12. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    I really think that it stems from the teachers and parents who don't like math.
     
  13. WindyCityGal606

    WindyCityGal606 Enthusiast

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    Sep 22, 2012

    I believe some people just struggle with number sense from early on so they fall behind and have a hard time catching up. I have some fifth graders in my science class this year who still don't understand the relationship between addition and multiplication or subtraction and division.
     
  14. McParadigm

    McParadigm Companion

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    Sep 22, 2012

    By the same token, having the class move on to the next unit because it's scheduled that way, and having to go along even though you still don't understand the last set of concepts, makes any connection difficult to accomplish. It also requires you, over time, to fall into a repeating cycle of trying to learn the next step of equations without having first acquired all the background skills that might make the new process understandable.

    Math seems like a subject area where differentiation and level-based instruction is particularly essential.
     
  15. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Sep 22, 2012

    So, once again, it seems to boil down to the teaching, and not the subject.
     
  16. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Sep 22, 2012

    It could be my bias as a science teacher, but I think that part of the problem is that students don't draw many real-life applications from math to use in their lives. They'll use the excuse: but we have calculators, etc.

    Me and a fellow math/science teacher talked about what might happen from really integrating the math and science departments so that students would be given more heavily math requiring science activities in their MATH class to work on, and science would involve a lot more labs that required more difficult calculations, or engineering activities that required the use of math.

    If you boil down what science is, it's a process to come to new understandings about the world around you, and is useful in almost all fields, even the skills it teaches are required in English and History research.

    If you boil down what math is, it is a skill that is required in some daily activities, but its main application is in engineering and science.

    Also, I read this book: The Secrets of Mental Math, that taught me how to do really complex operations in my head (things like easy and quick addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and exponents, but do them in sequence). It really made me feel powerful in math, and I think if this skill were taught to students, they'd enjoy math a whole lot more (but might be less prone to showing their work). >_>
     
  17. Missy

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    Not mad, per se, but this is such a damning generalization of elementary teachers.
    I have, however, heard many parents tell me their child won't do well in math because "they" are not math people.
    In our recent work on data collection in my room, math came out as the favorite time of the day. To be honest, I did not include lunch as one of the choices!
     
  18. 2ndTimeAround

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    That's not my experience. My dd's favorite teachers have always been her math teachers. It isn't her best subject, but she loves it. Probably because of those awesome teachers she's always talking about, lol.

    Now, I have wondered why some people major in math. I wasn't quite sure what they'd do with that degree afterward, except become a math teacher.
     
  19. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    I'm afraid my experience corroborates molly's assessment, and I think I have a larger population on which to base it.

    There is no domain tested on an elementary-school teacher test that doesn't trip up some test taker - but those who struggle with math (and there have been lots of them) sound much more personally wounded by the subject and everything about it than the others; I don't get the same sense of scar tissue from people who struggle with history, and "Oh, I'm just not a music person" is unheard of.

    This grieves me deeply.
     
  20. newkidinclass

    newkidinclass Rookie

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    As a math teacher I hear students voicing their frustrations with math all the time. These same students tend to have less frustrations when the math becomes more application based and/or social. I try to do as many "math labs" as possible. Last year we even designed and afterschool group to build a Rube Goldberg machine. It was a huge success and students were using math without even knowing it!
     
  21. GTB4GT

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    I'm in my second year. I struggle with the kids "who say math is boring". It seems extremely difficult to sway these students. My theory is that it is some type of defense or coping mechanism (although I am an engineer by training, not a psychologist). I also believe that they want (and expect) the teacher to enter the debate with them for a variety of reasons. I tried to "engage" in these conversations last year but found it added no value - opinions weren't swayed and instructional time is wasted. If a student has a "when will we ever need this?" type question, I will make qive a quick reply and then I will ask the student to see me after the bell to discuss further if interested - this way I make myself avaiable to them and not "duck" the debate.It just keeps the discussion 'real" - I can tell who is motivated and who was trying to get the class off topic. You would be surprised at how few students want to hold this discussion on their time rather than during class time.
    I do try hard to vary my instruction and not lecture for the allotted 47 minutes. I certainly understand how boring that would be to a student (and not effective teaching either imo). I want to have plenty of practice time allotted in class so students can have time to ask questions and get help from either a peer or from me. So I do plan with the thought of engaging students. I just don't waste class time debating the topic.
     
  22. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    In my opinion, several factors lead to students not 'liking' math.

    Math sets kids up for failure and judgement. Think of how many ways we do this. Even before kids have had time to internalize math facts we are on the timed competition (even if it is against one's best time) and the kids that are "trying hard enough" are the ones that easily memorize and reacall. The other's have that negative label attached to them. Not a place I would want to be and luckily, I was able to memorize facts easily when I was young.

    Then, math is a different language. We don't teach that language well. It requires understanding the nuances of the word within the context of how it is used. Any student that doesn't quickly learn the language of math struggles.

    Students struggle with multi-step problems because they rarely have to work with that in any class. Those that are good at multi-step problems are kids that "try hard enough". Those that aren't just need to try harder.

    Math is precise. It requires much more exactness than any languate arts class these days. I can guarantee if other classes actually required students to be precise (proper written mechanics, proper word choice all the time, etc) kids would hate those subjects equally as much as math. We live in a world where mistakes are seen as fatal flaws and judgement comes along with those mistakes.
     
  23. GTB4GT

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    Precision is indeed the beauty of math. For most problems, there IS only one right answer.It's strength is also it's weakness. I don't understand how one would begin to grade an essay in history or English. I sense that math has been differentiated in the student population because it does demand rigor/precision/accuracy.It also holds students more accountable because it requires students to spiral knowledge moreso than in other courses. Senior level trig, calculus and stats courses demand retention of skills and lnowledge learned in the 3rd, 6th, 8th and 10th grades. Other subject areas allow the students to "dump" the knowledge after the semester or year is complete (moreso than math). Students who are used to "getting by" struggle because of this.

    I do agree with the premise that our kids are afraid to fail/tackle anything new/difficult (in general, there are of course exceptions). Teaching students to put forth effort into any task they undertake may in fact be more useful to them down the road than the pythagorean theorem or the reflexive property of congruency.
     
  24. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    I think it absolutely comes down to the talent of the teacher. I took geometry twice. First time, I had a teacher who took a certain amount of pride in the percentage of students who failed her class. She also threw in a ton of trigonometry before we had started Algebra II. I failed the second semester of the class and retook it at another school. This teacher used the same textbook but made the subject approachable. He knew a lot of his students were artistic and pulled that into his lessons. He also showed the flow of building upon each lesson as we transitioned into new material. I earned As and Bs in this class and am still comfortable with the material decades later.

    Another example is from when I had to take a math class to complete my teaching certificate. It was all about logic and probability, and the class was all online with a minimally connected teacher. Thankfully, Rockhubby (then Rockboyfriend) reminded me about the connection to the theorems I learned in Geometry and built upon those ideas as he tutored me in the logic portion. He also taught me to play poker so I could apply my probability skills in a practical manner. I earned yet another A in a math class.

    Now I need some more math background so I can start learning Physics in my spare time. I know I have a great teacher on the other end of the couch!
     
  25. Grammy Teacher

    Grammy Teacher Virtuoso

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    How I see Math word problems. This is from Pinterest and it fits me perfectly.

    If you have 4 pencils and I have 7 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof?
    Purple, because aliens don't wear hats.

    I don't blame the teachers I had for that, or should? I am part of the "older" generation. When I was in elementary school, we learned Arithmetic. When I was in middle school, the switch was made to "Math," which meant a whole lot of changes that we were never prepared for in elementary. I was completely lost and never did catch up in Math. My heart was English and writing. It still is.
    I think some people are just more suited toward one or the other.
    That's just the way I am.
     
  26. GTB4GT

    GTB4GT Cohort

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    I disagree somewhat. while I agree with the premise that teacher "A" can be more effective than teacher "B" in teaching course "X", to generalize this to the typical High school student who has a poor attitude towards math implies that this student has encountered more bad math teachers than good ones in the course of his/her education. Statistically, I think the probability of this happening is rather small.

    That is unless, of course, there are signicantly more poor math teachers than effective ones. I don't believe this to be the case. however I am in only my second year after 30 years of other work so I do not have a lot of data, just going on gut feel here.

    If the premise IS that there are indeed more ineffective math teachers than effective ones (and there is already an existing shortage of math teachers) then math education is indeed in dire straights. Were is the pool of effective teachers (to fill current vacancies and replace ineffective teachers) going to come from?
     
  27. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Please understand that I'm not disparaging math teachers. I'm putting the effective ones on a parade float and showering them with confetti. There were too many teachers (including my own parents) who told me that I just didn't have the brain to learn math. I'm still mad at them because they shortchanged my ability as well as there. It would be like if I told a student to put down that novel because it's beyond his or her reach. It may take some tweaking to find the best way to convey information, but I can get my students to comprehend and occasionally enjoy it. My Geometry teacher got me to excel in his class, and I will always adore him for it.
     
  28. paperlabs

    paperlabs Rookie

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    I used to tell my students that they are not in the habit of communicating in mathematical terms. When they talk, read, watch TV, etc., it is a lot of English, Spanish, etc., that really gets very little done. It is easy to just babble on and on and on. I would like to win a prize for all the listening I have done. Math is for getting things done. It is for students who want to get things done. If other subjects were actually designed to truly get things done, students probably wouldn't like them either.
    Now to close, I admit I am not that great in the other subjects and I may come back to edit as I make more people mad at me and my ideas evolve.
     
  29. Swetha

    Swetha Rookie

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    Thanks for the responses. I know that not everyone dislikes math, but it seems like every time I tell someone I'm planning on majority in math, they talk about how much they hate math, and it's a little discouraging.
     
  30. Cicero

    Cicero Companion

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    If it makes you feel any better, every time I tell someone I teach Latin (even teachers), I tend to get confused stares and, "They still teach Latin?" :) But don't let it discourage you! Just think, you could be the kind of teacher that makes tons of students love math!
     
  31. Poodle15

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    :yeahthat:
    I have always been (and still am) terrified of making mistakes. When I make them I'm embarrassed and feel incredibly stupid. I was also never strong in math growing up.

    After I spent too many years in retail, I began to see the benefit of math. Life is messy. Writing is so open to opinions and choices whether it's diction, expression or pure opinion writing. History is memorization of dates or a real interest in how our world was shaped (many don't care about that, just about how it is now).

    Math, however, is cut and dried. It's either right or wrong. When you arrive at an answer, if you work backwards and it works out, you did it! If it doesn't, you try again. Math is not messy, it is clean.

    Especially coming in to junior high or high school, the kids' minds are messy: relationships, sports, friendships, hormones, reputations... Man, life is rough! But math is the one place where things are clear and concise. Yes, there are many ways to arrive at an answer, but that's part of the enjoyment. John and Mary got the same answer but came to it in different ways. Let's look at the difference. This is also true to a point with equations.

    To conclude (at last, I know), my HS biology teacher was the assistant football coach. He said he despised biology in HS because it was boring and harder than it needed to be. He decided that if he was going to coach and he needed to teach a class, it was going to be biology. He said, "I'll be damned if another generation of kids grows up hating science and biology the way I did."
     
  32. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I do believe more and more these days in our classrooms we are expecting a high amount of effort without the students having the tools to do the job. This isn't always the case, but the effort arguement is the same regardless of whether or not the students have the skills to do the work or the subskills and other compensatory skills to figure it out on their own.

    We can tell kids till we are blue in the face that they must work harder or ask for help, but they will stop asking when the person they go to doesn't get to the heart of the problem and tries to get them to understand something that is multiple levels above the skills they have. A perfect example would be going to a teacher for help with fractions. Unless a teacher realizes that the student's biggest drawback is lack of number sense which is typically gained anywhere from ages 4-8, any instruction regarding fractions will be wasted. Tell the student to reduce the fraction is not very worthwhile because the student will fail to see the relationship between the numbers.

    So, effort is important, but we can't teach kids effort unless they have someone that is cognizant of their toolkit, and we don't expect them to expend effort on tasks that will never be mastered with effort but with getting proper instruction.
     
  33. GTB4GT

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    yes, this is so very true.
     
  34. chessimprov

    chessimprov Rookie

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    Classroom management and teachers having to develop curriculum rather than having something to work with are factors that can get in the way, especially in urban school districts. Even if you have a good teacher, they could be good at the content but distracted by the management even if they are good at it. So many students have all kinds of unimaginable, sad problems, but we still need to give them tough love.

    Or a teacher can be excellent with classroom management, and likely terrible at the content. Many will profess to be great at both, but usually I think one will be much better at one than the other.

    Also, math tends to be too much memorization to a lot of the students. If students or even teachers don't realize some of the patterns out there, yes it's really tough!

    Sometimes we aren't able to give students the time they need initially to get past the hurdles in their way. Some students may need a couple of 2-3 hour sessions, not 15-30 minutes. Not all students have the money to afford a good tutor or such either.
     

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