Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Math phobia - it's contagious.

I have been reading a lot recently about how much much we lack in math.  "Math skills are lacking".  "Kids hate math".  "Math curricula flawed".  "U.S. behind in math and science training".  I attribute no small part of that to the teachers themselves.  I am not implicating the curricula (which definitely lack).  I am not blaming the children.  It isn't just that parents have trouble helping in new (new, new, newer) [name your mathematics teaching revolution here] math.  I think that we need to start with the teachers.

I didn't just decide to vilify other teachers overnight. This notion has grown over a decade of observing teachers. I've watched lots of teachers... daycare teachers, elementary education teachers, elementary education counselors, high school teachers, other college professors, and teachers of teachers (college education professors).  Over and over, I see the same behavior, hear the same concerns, and when students here these words over and over - they learn that this approach is acceptable, normal, and correct.

"I hate math".  "I can't do math".  "When I heard that there was math involved, I quit".  "Math is too hard for me".  This is what I keep hearing teachers say.  Sometimes, I have heard this in front of students.  Sometimes, it is just the attitude that they carry into the classroom.

If kids hear that math is scary, bad, difficult, and not worthy of  working hard to learn - what do you suppose that they learn?

At a recent teaching conference, for college professors, a math professor used a mathematical concept as the grist for examining a new teaching method.  They chose an easy topic, so that we could focus on how the method works.  The concept that we covered (just as grist for exploring a teaching method), was learning the characteristics of the following quadrilaterals: rhombus, parallelogram, square, rectangle, and trapezoid.    I was gobsmacked - the math fear evoked by learning (oooooh) SHAPES had some college professors ready to walk out.  Other college professors laughed in their seats that, "I don't do math", and they listened, but didn't participate.

If a generation of college professors finds it amusing, acceptable, and even funny that they can't describe four-sided shapes - no wonder our math teaching is going to hell in a handbasket.

Folks - I get it, you found math intimidating.  But, as teachers, you have a responsibility to approach learning as fun exercise.  You will never find me telling my students that I don't do english,  I don't do writing, I don't do art, music, or whatever.  I certainly recognize my weaknesses - but, like fine music - even if I can't make it - I should be able to appreciate it when I hear it.


Johanna Marion said...

Like music, Math is contagious in a way that when teachers hate it, their students tend not to take the subject seriously. That makes Math an instant villain to students. Good thing is that professors have heard enough of the 'negatives' and made a new way of teaching the subject. Now who says that Trigonometry can't be contagious the other way around? :)s

Ruth Rumack said...

Teacher must understand that mathematics is always a problem for students.Students can easily digest the mathematics concept when thay connecting mathematics to the everyday used. I suggest that teachers to mentally motivate the students to foster positive attitudes in mathematics.