I’ve heard that many students think math sucks. These students grow up. Some become lawyers, some become doctors, some become electricians, some become executives, and some become teachers. Firstly, that’s okay. Not everyone needs to like everything. My biggest concern is not that people don’t share my inexplicable love of math, but they don’t like it and believe they can’t do it. Chicken and egg conundrum — which came first? Disliking math or having trouble with math?
At WestCAST, I saw Dr. Jerome Cranston (@dr_j_cranston) present on his research about pre-service teachers entering university. All data was collected prior to the students took even one education class. A few things really stuck out for me. According to Dr. Cranston’s research, only 46% of females stated that they had average or above average math skills. That means that over half of the large data poll thought that they were below average (or worse) in their math skills. That’s kind of scary.
Similarly, only 69.3% of males participating in the survey thought they had average or above average math skills. That’s a little more promising, but the lack of confidence is still astounding.
The scariest fact that he presented was that only 47% of middle years teachers felt they had average or above average math skills. Over half did not believe that they were at least average. Yikes. Based on the Saskatchewan Curriculum, middle years is where math starts to get abstract (think algebra, variables, etc.). Confidence in math skills goes a long way to helping students learn these skills. Instilling self-trust in math is imperative.
While many teachers don’t like math and are fantastic at pretending they do, it still can come through in subtle ways. Think back to your education — if a teacher didn’t like doing something, could you tell? Did you like it even though they didn’t? Scary stuff.
So what can we do about it? We need to break the cycle. We need to build math confidence in our students. I don’t know exactly what this might look like, but somehow it needs to happen. What are your thoughts? How can we help our students like math or, at the very least, feel confident in their own math skills?