Students Fear Math

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Students Fear Math

Postby mypsychoticself » Fri Apr 03, 2009 3:19 pm UTC

UPI wrote:Six out out of 10 university students present "mathematical anxiety" or fear of this subject, researchers in Spain found.

The study involved 885 first-year students at the University of Granada who took mathematics courses.

Patricia Perez-Tyteca, Enrique Castro, Isidoro Segovia, Encarnacion Castro, Francisco Fernandez and Francisco Cano said the students included four of the five university fields of study: Health Sciences, Experimental Sciences, Technical Education and Social Sciences.

The researchers applied to the students the Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitudes Scales, a questionnaire validated by experts from all over the world which has been used since the 70s.

Mathematical anxiety appears through a series of symptoms "such as tension, nervousness, concern, worry, edginess, impatience, confusion, fear and mental block" when dealing with the subject of mathematics, the researchers said.

Students of degrees of the field of Health Sciences are those who fear mathematics the most, unlike those of Technical Education, who are the less concerned, the study found.

Math fear can change a student's life, because many students don't choose degrees they would have preferred because of the math requirement.

Part of the results of this work have been published in the journals Indivisa: Boletín de Estudios e Investigacion, Investigacion en Educacion Matematica and Revista de Educacion de la Universidad de Granada.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Indon » Fri Apr 03, 2009 5:48 pm UTC

I'm not surprised. Math is scary!
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Lucrece » Fri Apr 03, 2009 5:55 pm UTC

Math kills your GPA, and therefore your ability to compete for acceptance into graduate/medical school. It's no wonder people fear math. It's the one subject where there are no trivial mistakes; a single error, and you get a zero.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Chen » Fri Apr 03, 2009 6:02 pm UTC

Lucrece wrote:Math kills your GPA, and therefore your ability to compete for acceptance into graduate/medical school. It's no wonder people fear math. It's the one subject where there are no trivial mistakes; a single error, and you get a zero.


I'm fairly glad I didn't take math classes where you did. Rarely did a single error result in a 0 for me.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Xeio » Fri Apr 03, 2009 6:12 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
Lucrece wrote:Math kills your GPA, and therefore your ability to compete for acceptance into graduate/medical school. It's no wonder people fear math. It's the one subject where there are no trivial mistakes; a single error, and you get a zero.
I'm fairly glad I didn't take math classes where you did. Rarely did a single error result in a 0 for me.
This. Also, I could argue errors in anything kills your GPA. For example, my math/CS courses are quite good overall, but my humanities classes are killing my GPA, thus I have a surprising amount of anxiety when dealing with those classes.

So... we don't like doing things we don't excel at. Way to go University of Granada for stating the obvious. Now why don't you go find out why math is scarier than other subjects (to the majority)...? :roll:

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Jahoclave » Fri Apr 03, 2009 8:54 pm UTC

Xeio wrote:
Chen wrote:
Lucrece wrote:Math kills your GPA, and therefore your ability to compete for acceptance into graduate/medical school. It's no wonder people fear math. It's the one subject where there are no trivial mistakes; a single error, and you get a zero.
I'm fairly glad I didn't take math classes where you did. Rarely did a single error result in a 0 for me.
This. Also, I could argue errors in anything kills your GPA. For example, my math/CS courses are quite good overall, but my humanities classes are killing my GPA, thus I have a surprising amount of anxiety when dealing with those classes.

So... we don't like doing things we don't excel at. Way to go University of Granada for stating the obvious. Now why don't you go find out why math is scarier than other subjects (to the majority)...? :roll:

Well, for one thing, like Lucrece said, there's no room to fuck up. It's not an opinion to argue. You either followed the logical steps to do the problem or you failed. It's pure logic and in my experience it's often thought very poorly. (Considering I had an algebra teacher that didn't know how to do x-2=4). And this new new math stuff is only going to make this problem worse. We keep trying to get away from the fact that math is logic and make it rather wishy washy. The bigger problem is that unlike humanities subjects, people just don't know how to do it very well. And, everything builds upon itself. So if somebody fucks you over on learning the basics then you're screwed when it comes to upper level application.

You don't get that in history where you learn about Columbus every year or in English where you read Shakespeare and Faulkner for the umpteenth time. Though, you do see some of this same problem when it comes to teaching English grammar. Schools do a very bad job of teaching logic.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Tautology » Fri Apr 03, 2009 9:25 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Considering I had an algebra teacher that didn't know how to do x-2=4


I find it hard to imagine you had a legitimate Algebra teacher who couldn't do an equation that simple. Are you just exaggerating because they happened to make a mistake?

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Xeio » Fri Apr 03, 2009 9:29 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Well, for one thing, like Lucrece said, there's no room to fuck up. It's not an opinion to argue. You either followed the logical steps to do the problem or you failed.
Unless you totally didn't understand the problem, or had a horrible professor/didn't study/do homework, I don't see how you couldn't argue for partial credit. I've never had a professor take off all the points to a problem just because the final solution was incorrect. You can also argue that most of anything builds upon itself, I'd be hard pressed to do any of my high level CS courses if I hadn't taken the lower level ones, I can't help but think it's the same for all aspects of learning.
Jahoclave wrote:It's pure logic and in my experience it's often thought very poorly. (Considering I had an algebra teacher that didn't know how to do x-2=4)

So if somebody fucks you over on learning the basics then you're screwed when it comes to upper level application.

Schools do a very bad job of teaching logic.
You'd also be hard pressed to say that math is the only subject taught poorly. I'll give you that it builds upon itself (hence, if you can't do addition, then good luck doing calculus). I also think the study is pretty silly in suggesting that it's a bad thing that people avoid math-heavy majors because they don't like math. Do we really think this is a bad thing? Though, the study doesn't propose any solutions either (though, we don't have the full report, just the article on it... so it probably does, in at least some limited extent).

It's more useful to ask how is it best to reduce this anxiety. Better teaching standards? Or will students always dislike math, even if they are taught well? I'm doubtful the best is to drop math requirements from most majors. Though, I do think that colleges often end up requiring a lot of unnecessary curriculum (wraaah, humanities), so perhaps in refining these we could cut down on some of the math requirements for certain majors.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby mypsychoticself » Fri Apr 03, 2009 9:39 pm UTC

Xeio wrote:It's more useful to ask how is it best to reduce this anxiety. Better teaching standards? Or will students always dislike math, even if they are taught well? I'm doubtful the best is to drop math requirements from most majors. Though, I do think that colleges often end up requiring a lot of unnecessary curriculum (wraaah, humanities), so perhaps in refining these we could cut down on some of the math requirements for certain majors.

I think it would help if more primary school teachers tried to make math fun. I had a great teacher who taught pre-algebra using a scale (that didn't move) and blocks. So, for any given equation, she'd use slips of paper to represent the numbers and a block for the x.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Indon » Fri Apr 03, 2009 10:00 pm UTC

mypsychoticself wrote:I think it would help if more primary school teachers tried to make math fun. I had a great teacher who taught pre-algebra using a scale (that didn't move) and blocks. So, for any given equation, she'd use slips of paper to represent the numbers and a block for the x.


If that's what I think it is, it's a standardized curriculum. I went through it in 4th grade in New Jersey and 7th grade in Texas many years ago (Yes, Texas public education is pathetic, why do you ask?).
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Jahoclave » Sat Apr 04, 2009 12:24 am UTC

Tautology wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:Considering I had an algebra teacher that didn't know how to do x-2=4


I find it hard to imagine you had a legitimate Algebra teacher who couldn't do an equation that simple. Are you just exaggerating because they happened to make a mistake?

You'd think that, but no. She actually at one point left the room crying because we were asking her too many hard questions. I do believe she was fired a year or two later. It was her first year.

I'm not saying the teacher couldn't give partial credit for the problem. I'm just saying, you still got it wrong overall. It's not subjective in that regard. Also, other subjects are poorly taught, as are most subjects in our schools today. The difference is that poorly taught history doesn't have the same ramifications as poorly taught maths.

I do think that if you're teaching a subject rather well so that people are comfortable with it you end up with less anxiety towards the subject.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby luketheduke » Sat Apr 04, 2009 1:14 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:I'm just saying, you still got it wrong overall. It's not subjective in that regard.

That is an advantage of maths over other subjects, not a flaw. Because if you are right, then you can prove it. That's not possible with, say, an essay or a presentation. And if you are wrong, it's easy to see if you got the basic idea right and just screwed up a single transformation.
(Of course, it's also easier to score a zero in a maths exam than in a presentation)

Jahoclave wrote:I do think that if you're teaching a subject rather well so that people are comfortable with it you end up with less anxiety towards the subject.

Bad teachers are a huge problem. Maths IS a difficult subject; if you have a boring/stupid/pedagogically incompetent teacher who doesn't make the subject accessible and gives unfair marks, then any subject will become a horrifying monster, and double so with maths.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby PictureSarah » Sat Apr 04, 2009 1:31 am UTC

I got my degree from an art school instead of a mainstream university with a fine art major specifically so I wouldn't have to take any math. I failed EVERY SINGLE math test I ever took starting in 6th or 7th grade onward. I still got grades of B or B+ in my math classes in junior high and high school because I did all the homework, and the tests didn't actually count for that much, but honestly, math was terrifying. I took Algebra 1 twice in hopes that I would understand it instead of just go through the motions the second time around, and that didn't help any. At this point, I even dread playing Scrabble with people, because I can't add up my score myself. It's not that I don't know how to add, I do, but when I look at numbers, it's like looking at a letter from the Greek or Hebrew alphatbet (I don't know Greek or Hebrew); I don't necessarily comprehend what that number represents.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby GourdCaptain » Sat Apr 04, 2009 2:07 am UTC

I'm probably part of the very small minority who loves math classes. Of course, I tend to have an easier time in AP Calculus, than, in say, English class. I actually mentioned this at school today and everyone looked at me like I was nuts. Math has a verifiable answer and can be checked oneself, while English requires you let a teacher with differing opinions and writing styles grade your work. (I still don't understand English teachers. Several rules of grammar and punctuation have shifted between the last two teachers I've had, or disagree with my logic and fine me for that. I still pull high B's, low A's in English, but that's mostly from tests and other scores, my essays - not so much.)

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby ameretrifle » Sat Apr 04, 2009 4:57 am UTC

I had a math teacher in college... He'd put about 25 points' worth of bonus questions on every test. Why? Because it was pretty much that or a curve. One test, there were two As, four Cs, and everyone else in the class failed. It was a fairly small class by that time, I grant you.

The point is, even though I was one of the few who escaped that class with an A, it still scared me off math for a while, because I was very anxious back then, and I learned that trigonometry is pretty much the ONE subject that will not simply stick in my head. Calculus is fine, but Trig... it requires a lot of visualization, and memorization, and it falls out nearly as quickly as it goes in. I think math requires a certain style of thinking that isn't natural to some people, while other fields simply require the learning of facts.

Also, math has been marketed as "hard". Look at that "fields arranged by purity" strip-- the "softer" sciences are characterized by their growing lack of math. Leading to less respect for them, because they aren't as "hard". With so many people telling you something is hard all the time, it's really easy to fall into the trap of simply believing it. I'd imagine it becomes a self-fufilling prophecy.

Still, I regret not taking more math beyond pre-calc and trig, which is why I'm trying to study it on my own-- I don't want to lose everything I learned. I may not go into math or science, but I will always respect it. One of the reasons I'm here on the XKCD fora.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Maseiken » Sat Apr 04, 2009 5:07 am UTC

MATHS!
THE WORD IS MATHS!
COMMONWEALTH RAGE!
"GRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOWR!!!!"
(Translation: "Objection!")

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Naurgul » Sat Apr 04, 2009 7:32 am UTC

In my experience, each time you have problems in mathematics, it stings way more than other subjects. There's a certain feeling of being lost that accompanies such failures, which I think is so intense because of the fact that mathematics use natural language so little. I used to love mathematics (top grades and the like, although in no way a math-prodigy or anything like that), until I reached my second year in university. At that time, I had some really terrible teachers for Applied Mathematics (Fourier series and the like) and Signals & Systems (discrete signals, Z-transform etc) which really made me terrified of the field. I'm slowly getting over it, I think, but this is my conclusion: People are not as familiar with the mathematical way of thinking and symbols as they are with what is used in other fields. So, when they get stuck, they start feeling alienated which becomes the root of this whole problem.

PS: I will also agree with ameretrifle, in that the problem is intensified because of the preconception that "math is hard". This is certainly not the root of it, but it plays a big role at making this whole affair as ridiculously widespread and massive as it is.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Jahoclave » Sat Apr 04, 2009 7:51 am UTC

Maseiken wrote:MATHS!
THE WORD IS MATHS!
COMMONWEALTH RAGE!

Your rage is duly noted and on behalf of the English language I award you three kittens.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Maseiken » Sat Apr 04, 2009 10:24 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:
Maseiken wrote:MATHS!
THE WORD IS MATHS!
COMMONWEALTH RAGE!

Your rage is duly noted and on behalf of the English language I award you three kittens.

I claim them in the name of the Queen!
"GRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOWR!!!!"
(Translation: "Objection!")

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby jestingrabbit » Sat Apr 04, 2009 5:00 pm UTC

ameretrifle wrote:Also, math has been marketed as "hard". Look at that "fields arranged by purity" strip-- the "softer" sciences are characterized by their growing lack of math. Leading to less respect for them, because they aren't as "hard". With so many people telling you something is hard all the time, it's really easy to fall into the trap of simply believing it. I'd imagine it becomes a self-fufilling prophecy.


I've gotta say that this is more a problem with maths than those sciences. A lot of mathematics is tailored to physics (to the extent that there is a thing called mathematical physics), but very little effort is made to describe the more complicated structures that appear in chemisty, biology etc. Some of that is starting to change, with neuroscience becoming a really interdisciplinary thing atm, but it'll be a long time before maths stops being all buddy buddy with physics.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Garm » Sat Apr 04, 2009 7:30 pm UTC

jestingrabbit wrote:
ameretrifle wrote:Also, math has been marketed as "hard". Look at that "fields arranged by purity" strip-- the "softer" sciences are characterized by their growing lack of math. Leading to less respect for them, because they aren't as "hard". With so many people telling you something is hard all the time, it's really easy to fall into the trap of simply believing it. I'd imagine it becomes a self-fufilling prophecy.


I've gotta say that this is more a problem with maths than those sciences. A lot of mathematics is tailored to physics (to the extent that there is a thing called mathematical physics), but very little effort is made to describe the more complicated structures that appear in chemisty, biology etc. Some of that is starting to change, with neuroscience becoming a really interdisciplinary thing atm, but it'll be a long time before maths stops being all buddy buddy with physics.


There's a tight relationship between physics and math because, for the most part, the math was invented to do the physics (the rare exception that comes to mind is Riemmanian Geometry -> Quantum).
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Naurgul » Sat Apr 04, 2009 7:49 pm UTC

Actually, as far as I know, mathematics and physics weren't really treated as separate fields before the 20th century. Isn't it so?
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby psychosomaticism » Sun Apr 05, 2009 2:44 am UTC

jestingrabbit wrote:
ameretrifle wrote:Also, math has been marketed as "hard". Look at that "fields arranged by purity" strip-- the "softer" sciences are characterized by their growing lack of math. Leading to less respect for them, because they aren't as "hard". With so many people telling you something is hard all the time, it's really easy to fall into the trap of simply believing it. I'd imagine it becomes a self-fufilling prophecy.


I've gotta say that this is more a problem with maths than those sciences. A lot of mathematics is tailored to physics (to the extent that there is a thing called mathematical physics), but very little effort is made to describe the more complicated structures that appear in chemisty, biology etc. Some of that is starting to change, with neuroscience becoming a really interdisciplinary thing atm, but it'll be a long time before maths stops being all buddy buddy with physics.


Yeah, when I took a second-year ecology course, I was kind of flabbergasted by seeing calculus and bio in the same room (to describe rates of change of competitors, etc. Man, Lotka-Volterra did not click well with me for some reason).

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby SlyReaper » Sun Apr 05, 2009 2:58 pm UTC

But it's not even maths that they're fearing. It's what they've been TOLD is maths by years of bad teaching. Right up to high school, "maths" problems are of the form "use this here formula to work something out about this object" instead of "work something out about this object". Not only is it boring, it's worthless - the problem has been answered before it was even asked! That is not maths, that's just obeying instructions. It's so dry, most students can't concentrate on it and so it appears difficult. When I got to studying maths at university, much of the first year was spent simply unlearning what I had learned in school. After years of being top of my class and thinking I was good at maths, it turned out I was simply good at following instructions. That was alarming.

True maths is about forming patterns in your mind, turning them over and viewing them from all sorts of abstract angles to learn something about it. Instead of simply being TOLD that the square of the hypotenuse of a right angle triangle is the sum of the squares of the other two sides (and being forced to learn this by rote), students should be given the opportunity to work this out for themselves. I don't mean throwing them in the deep end, the teacher is always there to provide hints and nudges in the right direction. Progress would be slower, but at least the students wouldn't be bored out of their skulls and dreading the next maths lesson.

If you haven't read it already, I suggest reading an essay called "Lockhart's Lament". He explains it far more eloquently than I.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby aleflamedyud » Sun Apr 05, 2009 4:21 pm UTC

It really depends on the teacher and the curriculum. I had a bad teacher for Calc 2, which consisted mostly of learning random different integrals and sequence/series rules by rote, but now I've got a great teacher for Multivariable Calculus and I actually love it. I still have a hard time bringing myself to do homework problems, but that's just because math homework is evil. Of all classes it has one of the worst ratios of Work Done to Problems Solved.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby jestingrabbit » Sun Apr 05, 2009 5:01 pm UTC

Garm wrote:There's a tight relationship between physics and math because, for the most part, the math was invented to do the physics (the rare exception that comes to mind is Riemmanian Geometry -> Quantum).


I think you mean Riemannian geometry was thought up before it was used in general relativity, and indeed it was. But this isn't unique, nor is it uniquely a phenomenon of how maths and physics interact. For instance, Boolean algebra was dreamed up in the 19th century, a long time before computers existed. There's also a huge amount of work on prime numbers and number theory in general, going back thousands of years, before it was eventually used in cryptography.

Naurgul wrote:Actually, as far as I know, mathematics and physics weren't really treated as separate fields before the 20th century. Isn't it so?


They were definitely studied by the same people for a long time, with Leonhard Euler being a professor of physics, for example. But, by the mid 19th century they were definitely starting to be thought of as different subjects, with, for instance, the university of sydney appointing Morris Birbeck Pell to be its first professor of mathematics and physics in 1851. The fact that they were separating them at that time certainly indicates that they thought they were different things. But I doubt that Euler was unaware of the fact that when he was doing what we call pure mathematics he was doing something different in nature from his work on what we call physics.

But you're right that this closeness has been a big influence on the closeness of modern mathematics and physics. I just think that it would make sense to try to assist other disciplines instead of just consigning them to the "too soft" basket.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Crius » Mon Apr 06, 2009 6:07 pm UTC

Garm wrote:There's a tight relationship between physics and math because, for the most part, the math was invented to do the physics (the rare exception that comes to mind is Riemmanian Geometry -> Quantum).


I would have thought that math was originally invented for economic purposes, not for physics. Economics is probably as closely tied to math as physics is.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Maseiken » Mon Apr 06, 2009 11:24 pm UTC

Crius wrote:
Garm wrote:There's a tight relationship between physics and math because, for the most part, the math was invented to do the physics (the rare exception that comes to mind is Riemmanian Geometry -> Quantum).


I would have thought that math was originally invented for economic purposes, not for physics. Economics is probably as closely tied to math as physics is.

It depends on how you define Maths.

If you want to start with the Greeks, then you're looking specifically at Geometry (Euclid did most of his Mathematical problems on a number line to make them Geometrical problems). If you're talking about Numerical systems in general, I suppose you'd go back to Arabic scholars, whom I believe also used mathematics in the study of Astronomical phenomena.

So, if you're talking about Arithmatic, then yeah, that owes a lot of it's development to Ecnomics (Since we can't really go back far enough to find its true origin.), but just about anything else is more in the pursuit of Science. I wouldn't quite call it Physics, as such. The Aristotelean physical model had very little basis in Mathematics, but their astronomical theories are steeped in it. I would humbly posit that it wasn't until Newton that a mathematical formula was put to everyday physics, however. But then, I'm no historian, this is just what I've picked up so far.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby The Reaper » Tue Apr 07, 2009 12:50 am UTC

Maseiken wrote:So, if you're talking about Arithmatic, then yeah, that owes a lot of it's development to Ecnomics (Since we can't really go back far enough to find its true origin.), but just about anything else is more in the pursuit of Science. I wouldn't quite call it Physics, as such. The Aristotelean physical model had very little basis in Mathematics, but their astronomical theories are steeped in it. I would humbly posit that it wasn't until Newton that a mathematical formula was put to everyday physics, however. But then, I'm no historian, this is just what I've picked up so far.

I thought the reason for that is that everyone else got it wrong. Newton being the first guy to get the basics right, and then inventing calculus to help describe changes in things.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Maseiken » Tue Apr 07, 2009 6:40 am UTC

Hmm...
Well, That depends on how you define "Basics", "Describe" "Changes" and, most of all, "Right".
All of these are fairly lengthy arguments when it comes to the Philosophy of science.
It's a little simplistic to say 'Everyone else got it wrong'. Technically, Newton got it wrong too, and that of his work which we consider to be right may be shown not to be on the basis of further observations. Or the observations on which it is based may be shown to be false at some unknown level (This has already happened to a certain degree with Quantum Mechanics) And certainly, plenty of what we would call the basics were suggested awhile before Newton.

Example: Impetus (Or momentum). Aristotelean physics state that an object will move to its natural place unless acted upon by an outside force. This means if you have, say, a rock, as soon as it has no outstanding force acting upon it, it will fall directly to the centre of the universe (Stopping at the ground)
We can easily observe this to be false by simply throwing an object and observing that its movement continues even when it is largely independent of outside forces.

Originally, this was explained by airflow reversing upon reaching the other side of the object and pushing it onwards. Which is a bit much. It wasn't until later that Buridan developed (Didn't invent, Wikipedia says Sina did that) the concept of Impetus, that an object in motion has an intrinsic quality of movement, imparted onto the object by the initial force of its movement.

Newtonian physics disregards this as an intrinsic quality, but it's pretty clear the effect that such a theory would have on his work, and I would definitely consider it one of "The basics" even if it turns out to be false.


Also, I don't like Newton. Personally.

So yes, everyone else got it wrong, but they did so extremely cleverly, and Newton did too, a little.

I'd actually like to take back the statement that Newton was the first to use mathematics in the description in physical laws, but my point remains valid that complex mathematics were not developed for that use, or for that of economics.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Outchanter » Thu Apr 09, 2009 8:59 am UTC

PictureSarah wrote:I got my degree from an art school instead of a mainstream university with a fine art major specifically so I wouldn't have to take any math. I failed EVERY SINGLE math test I ever took starting in 6th or 7th grade onward. I still got grades of B or B+ in my math classes in junior high and high school because I did all the homework, and the tests didn't actually count for that much, but honestly, math was terrifying. I took Algebra 1 twice in hopes that I would understand it instead of just go through the motions the second time around, and that didn't help any. At this point, I even dread playing Scrabble with people, because I can't add up my score myself. It's not that I don't know how to add, I do, but when I look at numbers, it's like looking at a letter from the Greek or Hebrew alphatbet (I don't know Greek or Hebrew); I don't necessarily comprehend what that number represents.

I'm no psychologist, but I'd guess that a fear going all the way back to grade 6 (and thereafter continually reinforced by repeated failures) would have been a lot easier to get rid of if it had been dealt with in grade 6. If in grade 6 you'd had access to resources to get you back up to speed and restore your confidence, you probably wouldn't have a problem now. The fact that this didn't happen means the education system is in sore need of fixing.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby luketheduke » Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:28 pm UTC

Not to fuel internet hypochondria, but dyscalculia is a disorder.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby Heisenberg » Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:48 pm UTC

luketheduke wrote:Not to fuel internet hypochondria, but dyscalculia is a disorder.

This seems more like a stereotype threat.
Jonah Lehrer wrote:However, when Steele gave a separate group of students the same test but stressed that it was not a measure of intelligence he told them it was merely a preparatory drill the scores of the white and black students were virtually identical. The achievement gap had largely been closed. According to Steele, the disparity in test scores was caused by an effect that he calls "stereotype threat". When black students are told that they are taking a test to measure their intelligence, it brings to mind, rather forcefully, the ugly and untrue stereotype that blacks are less intelligent than whites. (Steele conducted his experiments soon after The Bell Curve was published. But the same effect also exists when women take a math test that supposedly measures "cognitive differences between the genders," or when white males are exposed to a stereotype about the academic superiority of Asians.) The Stanford sophomores were so worried about being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype that they performed far below their abilities.

I think that a large group of individuals are stereotyped at a young age as "not a math person," or "not a math and science person." I've encountered that when recruiting women into engineering degree programs.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby MrGee » Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:54 am UTC

PictureSarah wrote:I got my degree from an art school instead of a mainstream university with a fine art major specifically so I wouldn't have to take any math. I failed EVERY SINGLE math test I ever took starting in 6th or 7th grade onward. I still got grades of B or B+ in my math classes in junior high and high school because I did all the homework, and the tests didn't actually count for that much, but honestly, math was terrifying. I took Algebra 1 twice in hopes that I would understand it instead of just go through the motions the second time around, and that didn't help any. At this point, I even dread playing Scrabble with people, because I can't add up my score myself. It's not that I don't know how to add, I do, but when I look at numbers, it's like looking at a letter from the Greek or Hebrew alphatbet (I don't know Greek or Hebrew); I don't necessarily comprehend what that number represents.


That's very interesting. I have a half-baked theory about this kind of thing, namely that people are often bad at something because they don't use the proper area of the brain. Athletes refer to "muscle memory" for example, really just mean using your motor cortex instead of your general CPU-like thinking. I find that when I play guitar, if I think about individual movements I do terribly. Instead, I try to combine notes into short patterns and then think, "play pattern A". It works well, although it is very difficult to start playing in the middle of the phrase.

If you're better at art, have you tried thinking of math as an art problem, or visualizing the design of a painting? Many mathematically concepts can be solved by imagining them as a geometry problem.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby '; DROP DATABASE;-- » Fri Apr 10, 2009 5:33 am UTC

^This. I have the same thing where I can keep doing some complex action over and over without even thinking about it and then as soon as I think about it I start fucking it up repeatedly. It's all in how you think.
Chen wrote:
Lucrece wrote:Math kills your GPA, and therefore your ability to compete for acceptance into graduate/medical school. It's no wonder people fear math. It's the one subject where there are no trivial mistakes; a single error, and you get a zero.


I'm fairly glad I didn't take math classes where you did. Rarely did a single error result in a 0 for me.
Yeah, you have lousy teachers if you didn't get partial credit. A sane teacher will generally give one mark for each step done correctly, and correct the others or explain the mistake.
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Xeio wrote:It's more useful to ask how is it best to reduce this anxiety. Better teaching standards? Or will students always dislike math, even if they are taught well? I'm doubtful the best is to drop math requirements from most majors. Though, I do think that colleges often end up requiring a lot of unnecessary curriculum (wraaah, humanities), so perhaps in refining these we could cut down on some of the math requirements for certain majors.

I think it would help if more primary school teachers tried to make math fun. I had a great teacher who taught pre-algebra using a scale (that didn't move) and blocks. So, for any given equation, she'd use slips of paper to represent the numbers and a block for the x.
Agreed 100% on this as well. You really can't learn if you don't want to. In high school I took trigonometry but nobody ever bothered to explain why I would ever need to know it or what use I'd ever have for it. I cheated, passed with a D, and didn't learn anything. Then I learned how important trig is in 3D video games, which I plan to get into. I took it again in college - a more difficult course which covered the things I should have learned in high school and then a whole lot more - and passed with about 93%.
Not only did I learn why it was useful for me, but the teachers in college always explained what other uses the material had. Just today we were discussing this and several students commented on how much easier it was for them to learn when the teacher had explained why they should know it.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby MrGee » Fri Apr 10, 2009 5:42 am UTC

A side note: research shows that people learn a hell of a lot more when you tell them where your information is going. i.e. "This is how you do 3D graphics" Not "here are some functions, and after an hour of explanation oh look graphics, don't you wish you had paid attention".

Sadly my math teachers were all of the "STFU and multiply" school.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby luketheduke » Fri Apr 10, 2009 12:22 pm UTC

Yes. But how do you justify teaching things 90% of the students will never have to use outside of the next exam?
But maybe only naming a use already makes our brain think it is more important - I don't know that research.
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby psychosomaticism » Fri Apr 10, 2009 9:09 pm UTC

luketheduke wrote:Yes. But how do you justify teaching things 90% of the students will never have to use outside of the next exam?
But maybe only naming a use already makes our brain think it is more important - I don't know that research.


Well that's kind of a circular problem; we don't use what we don't learn, and we don't learn what we don't use. I think the school system right now focuses on throwing all sorts of knowledge at youngsters and hoping some things stick and get used later.

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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby luketheduke » Fri Apr 10, 2009 9:18 pm UTC

Well, declared aim of Gymnasium (high-level secondary school) in Bavaria is to teach pupils how to learn, and to introduce them to the principles of scientific work. The actual knowledge we were taught is just dummy content, just lorem ipsum. :mrgreen:
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Re: Students Fear Math

Postby HenryS » Sat Apr 11, 2009 6:08 am UTC

I've read in a few places opinions from mathematicians along the lines of the big problem with math(s) education being the focus on calculus as the core goal of the high school curriculum. This is a problem because calculus really isn't that useful for most people, unless they go on to study the sciences, engineering or mathematics at university. So if it isn't actually going to be useful, let alone easy to convince students that it is going to be useful, it is of course difficult to motivate.

The alternatives proposed go along the lines of probability, statistics, discrete math(s) and general problem solving/thinking logically. Probability and statistics are useful to almost everyone, in understanding what's going on in the news etc., discrete math(s) goes well with knowledge of computers, which is increasingly important for everyone, and the ability to think precisely about things is very useful no matter what you do.


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